This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Wednesday, July 29th, 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:

4 p.m. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Wednesday said the state recorded 2,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last four days – numbers comparable to what the state was seeing a month ago. Another 489 people tested positive in the last 24 hours, the sixth consecutive day where case counts topped 400.

Murphy warned residents to continue to take precautions despite looser restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

“We can’t go backwards, we can’t afford to go backwards,” Murphy said, during a press conference.

The governor partly blamed the spike in new cases to crowded house parties that have caused at least 125 new infections.

"When there are hundreds of people crammed into a house where the air conditioning system is simply blowing the air around and when people are not wearing face coverings, you have also invited coronavirus to your party,” he said.

Several teenage house parties in Middletown, which happens to be Murphy’s hometown, have been linked to 55 cases among teenagers ages 14 to 19. In Long Beach Island, social gatherings by lifeguards were blamed for 35 cases in Harvey Cedars and Surf City. Two graduation parties were also found to be the source of infections: one in Westfield resulted in seven cases, while another in Cape May County led to 46 cases.

On top of that, police this weekend broke up a party of more than 700 people at a Jackson mansion AirBnb.

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli urged residents to wear a face covering and social distance even if they gather outdoors. Outdoor gatherings in the state are currently capped at 500 people, while indoor gatherings are capped at 100 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever is less.

Cuomo Shoots Down Tax On Billionaires

2:45 p.m. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday dismissed a proposal pushed by progressives to tax New York's billionaires as a way to address the $14 billion budget gap and help those most hurt economically by the pandemic.

"The numbers are too large for that," Cuomo said, referring to the size of the shortfall.

New York has roughly 100 billionaires, according to the governor.

”You’d have to tax each of them a half billion dollars, and then you’d have no billionaires left," he asserted.

The comments were consistent with Cuomo's longtime platform, which has been to reduce taxes and avoid taxing the wealthy. But amid growing uncertainty about another stimulus bill, and specifically how much funding it will contain for state and local governments, the chorus has grown louder for a tax on the state's wealthiest residents.

Most notably, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently signed on in support of a bill introduced by Jessica Ramos, a state senator from Queens, which would tax the unrealized capital gains of the state’s billionaires.

In June, 103 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter saying that the state should increase taxes on billionaires and direct the money to workers not eligible for unemployment insurance or the federal stimulus.

"Ultra-millionaires and billionaires should not be the only constituency held harmless in this crisis. We are all in this together, and sacrifice must be shared," the letter stated.

For a second day in a row, Cuomo said that a failure by the federal government to fund states would result in devastating cuts — as well as increases in property taxes and subway and LIRR fares.

“The money needs to come from somewhere,” Cuomo said on Tuesday.

On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez responded to the governor's remark, asking "Why not the billionaires?" in Spanish.

To some Albany watchers, Cuomo's comments suggest a strategy of keeping pressure on Washington lawmakers as well as the likelihood that he will opt to make cuts over raising taxes.

NY Will Allow Driving Schools To Teach On Zoom

On Wednesday, the governor also announced that New York driving schools would be allowed to conduct online classes for pre-licensing courses.

"As we continue establishing a new normal it's important to be flexible in how we administer certain services including the process for getting a driver's license," Cuomo said, in a statement. "The pre-licensing course is critical for New Yorkers to learn how to drive safely, and allowing driving schools to teach this course remotely will allow courses to resume without risking the health and safety of those participating."

A 5-hour pre-licensing course is required before beginning drivers can schedule a road test.

The state has resumed road tests with safety precautions. They include instructing drivers to disinfect the passenger side of the vehicle with disinfectant wipes upon arrival. DMV road test examiners are now required to wear gloves, face coverings, and have hand sanitizer.

U.S. Death Tolls Approaches 150,000, NYT Survey Finds More Than 6,300 Cases Linked To Colleges

The national death toll from coronavirus is nearly 150,000, a once unthinkable milestone that reflects the degree to which the pandemic has ravaged the country and how poorly leaders have managed the outbreaks. According to Johns Hopkins University's database, at least 149,375 people in the United States have been confirmed to have died from the disease, with more than 4.3 million confirmed cases to date.

Earlier this month, a model used by the White House coronavirus task force predicted that the virus could wind up killing more than 200,000 by November. More recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention predicted that there will likely be between 160,000 and 175,000 total reported COVID-19 deaths by August 15th.

"The jurisdictions with the greatest likelihood of a larger number of deaths include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah," the CDC said.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported the extent to which the virus has infected college campuses, a growing concern as many schools look to reopen in the fall.

The Times determined that at least 6,300 cases were linked to about 270 colleges since the pandemic began. The paper said it surveyed "every public four-year college in the country, as well as every private institution that competes in Division I sports or is a member of an elite group of research universities."

Still, the tally is likely an undercount. Reflecting the shortcomings by U.S. health officials in collecting comprehensive data, the story notes: "There is no standardized reporting method for coronavirus cases and deaths at colleges, and the information is not being publicly tracked at a national level. Of nearly 1,000 institutions contacted by The Times, some had already posted case information online, some provided full or partial numbers and others refused to answer basic questions, citing privacy concerns. Hundreds of colleges did not respond at all."

The survey findings comes in the wake of a Gothamist report that Columbia University, one of the largest private institutions in New York City, has been pressuring undergraduate faculty and instructors to teach courses in-person. After initially saying that professors could choose their mode of teaching, a Columbia official sent an email to faculty on Monday night asking them to "mount a more robust offering of in-person or hybrid courses to meet important student needs."

As cases and deaths mount, the U.S. still has not implemented a clear national strategy on the virus, with Republican governors resisting mask mandates as well as bar and restaurant closures.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump delivered another unnerving press conference about the state of the pandemic, offering patently false information and complaining that he is less popular than Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top public health official.

"You can look at large parts of our country, it's corona-free," Trump said, when in fact every state has cases.

At one point, the president questioned why Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, another member of the White House coronavirus task force, were popular while he was not.

"They are highly thought of but nobody likes me," he said.