This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Thursday, September 17th, 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, museums, and gyms. 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:

1 p.m. New Jersey is reporting the largest one-day increase in new COVID-19 cases since August.

Governor Phil Murphy said Thursday another 617 people tested positive for the illness—the first time the state has topped 600 cases in five weeks.

The rate of people testing positive also climbed to 2.99 percent, after hovering around 2 percent for the last two weeks.

“That’s a big number, I’d be lying if I said otherwise,” Murphy said during an unrelated morning press conference regarding the budget.

State officials in recent weeks have attributed many of the new COVID-19 cases to young people, who are testing positive at three times the rate as other age groups. They said people ages 14 – 24 are getting sick at more than double the rate they were last month, largely due to parties and social gatherings.

During his briefing on Wednesday, Murphy urged everyone to stop partying.

“We're not remotely close to packed congregating around a bar, either inside in a bar or a restaurant. We're not close to that. So what makes people think that a house party is any different than that?” he said. “We've got to avoid that like the plague.”

The governor also railed against a group of YouTube personalities that came to the Jersey Shore this week and drew a largely maskless crowd of at least 1,500 in Seaside Heights, according to Murphy said it would take a few weeks to know whether the gathering will lead to an outbreak “because of these knuckleheads, who I hope don't come back to New Jersey and certainly aren't welcome.”

While most public and charter schools restarted last week, Murphy said there’s no evidence of any in-school transmission for now even though some schools have reported cases among students.

About a dozen districts and charter schools that reopened their buildings were forced to transition temporarily back to remote learning in the last two weeks after students tested positive for COVID-19. But so far, those cases were caused by students who arrived on campus already infected.

The state’s death toll has surpassed 16,000.

WHO Official Says Europe Faces “Alarming" Transmission Rates, Trump Refutes CDC Chief

A World Health Organization official on Thursday sounded a grave warning about the coronavirus crisis in Europe, noting “alarming rates of transmission” and emphasizing the need for prompt and collective response by countries across the region.

“We have a very serious situation unfolding before us,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said during a press briefing. “Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March.”

Over the last two weeks, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased by more than 10 percent in more than half of the countries in Europe, according to Kluge. Seven countries saw their caseloads double. Spain leads Europe in the number of cases, with more than 614,000 cases confirmed since the pandemic began. It is followed by France and the United Kingdom.

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, they also show alarming rates of transmission,” he said.

On Monday, millions of U.K. residents were placed under new lockdown measures, including bans on gatherings of more than six people. Last week, French Prime Minister Jean Castex warned of a “clear worsening” of virus outbreaks.

Similar to the United States, the bulk of cases have occurred among individuals aged 25 to 49.

As Europe braces for a potential second wave, the U.S. has yet to implement a coherent national response, with the Trump administration still issuing information that conflicts with that of public health experts.

During a White House press conference on Wednesday, President Donald Trump scolded the head of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention for saying that a vaccine would not be widely available until the middle of next year and for saying that masks were more important in fighting the spread of the virus.

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, Redfield called masks "the most important, powerful public health tool we have" and said they were "more guaranteed to protect against Covid" than a vaccine.

“It’s just incorrect information," Trump said, referring to the vaccine timeline Redfield described. "He just made a mistake. I think he misunderstood the question, probably," he later added.

Trump maintained that a vaccine could be ready to be distributed as early as mid-October, an aggressive projection not supported by experts.

"This is the largest, fastest, and most advanced vaccine distribution effort in American history, by far," he said.

Trump, who has repeatedly lied to the public about the severity of COVID-19 and refused to consistently wear a mask in public despite the urging of his own public health officials, also questioned Redfield's prioritization of masks for the the public, saying a vaccine would be "much more effective."

"I think there's a lot of problems with masks," he said.