This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Friday, July 31st, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, and professional sports (without fans). A look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

Here's the latest:

3:15 p.m. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Friday said that the state's estimated rate of transmission for coronavirus has climbed to a level higher than what it was during the peak of the crisis in April.

“The numbers are setting off alarms that we take very seriously," Murphy said, during a press conference in Trenton. "We may still be among the leaders in having lower case numbers and daily positivity rates, but we are standing in a very dangerous place."

"The alarms are going off," he added.

The rate of transmission, which measures the average number of people infected by each infected person, rose to 1.35 on Wednesday. Any number above 1 is considered concerning.

The last time the transmission rate was that high was April 7th, 115 days ago, according to

The spike comes amid a string of reports of large social gathering along the Jersey shore and at indoor house parties. Over the weekend, police broke up a gathering of 700 people at a so-called "Mansion Party" in Jackson Township.

Murphy specifically cited such house parties on Friday, saying, "Everyone who walks around refusing to wear a mask, or who hosts a house party is directly contributing to these increases. This has to stop, and it has to stop now.”

During a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked whether he might consider asking travelers from New Jersey to quarantine. New York is currently requiring a 14-day quarantine for people coming from 36 states or U.S. territories. New Jersey is still far off from reaching the state's criteria, which is a seven day rolling average of positive tests over 10 percent, or positive cases exceeding 10 per 100,000 residents.

New Jersey's most recent positivity rate was 2.15 percent.

"I don't know how you could quarantine New Jersey," Cuomo said. "We're not blockading roads. They don't use airports to get to New York."

“We’re working with them,” he added. “Obviously they’re our neighbor they’ve been our neighbor all through this. I’m hopeful we can get that number down.”

The governor has previously said that he expects to see a rise in virus cases in New York given the growing spread across the country. Manhattan City Councilmember Mark Levine, who chairs the health committee, observed on Twitter that cases are now rising in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

"NY is now an island within an island, with warning signs looming on all sides," he wrote.

U.S. Lawmakers Grill Top Health Officials On Pandemic Response

House lawmakers on Friday morning began interrogating three top U.S. public health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, as part of an ongoing investigation into the Trump administration's pandemic response.

Dr. Fauci was joined by Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health who is in charge of coronavirus testing.

Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the top Democrat on the House panel leading the inquiry, kicked off the hearing by demanding that the Trump administration come up with a comprehensive national strategy to battle the surging virus.

As of Friday, there are nearly 4.5 million infections across the country and more than 152,000 deaths.

“It is clear that the administration’s approach of deferring to the states, sidelining experts and rushing to reopen has prolonged this virus and led to thousands of preventable deaths,” Clyburn said. “In fact, the United States response stands out as among the worst of any country in the world.”

In a statement that will likely draw scrutiny, Giroir defended the Trump administration’s efforts on testing and asserted, “We cannot test our way out of this or any other pandemic.”

“Testing does not replace personal responsibility," he added.

Lacking a nationwide testing approach, states have struggled to establish sufficient testing. The situation has been exacerbated as increased demand for testing has lead to longer turnaround times..

At one point, Clyburn asked Fauci why Europe has largely contained the virus whereas cases have continued to spread in the U.S., a comparison that has been used an indictment on President Donald Trump's pressure to have states reopen quickly.

Fauci said that only about 50 percent of the country had “functionally shut down” whereas Europe closed nearly 95 percent of its economy.

"We started off with a very difficult baseline of transmission that was going on when we tried to open up the country," he said.

Without being specific, he added that some states also failed to follow the recommended public health guidelines. In fact, several Republican states, including Florida and Texas, have refused to issue face mask mandates and were initially resistant to renewed shutdowns in the wake of record new cases.

In response, President Donald Trump tweeted a false assertion he has repeatedly made during the crisis, that more testing has resulted in more infections.

“Somebody please tell Congressman Clyburn, who doesn’t have a clue, that the chart he put up indicating more CASES for the U.S. than Europe, is because we do MUCH MORE testing than any other country in the World,” Trump tweeted.

You can watch the live hearing on C-SPAN.