During Monday’s press conference, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced 80 new positive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in New Jersey, bringing the statewide total to 176 cases. He also announced several new measures being implemented throughout the state in an attempt to increase social distancing and help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“These numbers prove the necessity of our efforts to slow the spread of (COVID-19) and to aggressively move to a policy of social distancing,” he said.
Murphy said he signed an executive order that will close all New Jersey schools, effective Wednesday, March 18. He said closures will last a minimum of two weeks but will remain closed until health officials consider them safe to reopen.
“The directive, and many have asked us about this, covers all public, private and parochial schools from pre-K to grade 12, and all colleges and universities will have to cease in-person instruction as well,” he said. “Many districts and institutions of higher education had preemptively announced closures of at least two weeks. We all need to prepare for the likelihood that it will, in fact, be much longer.”
Officials are confident both the educational and individual needs of all students will be met, Murphy said. This includes providing free and reduced meals to students.
He also said they are now strongly discouraging all nonessential and nonemergency travel from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., effective immediately until further notice.
“If you don’t need to be on the roads, you should not be on the roads,” Murphy said. “Alternatively, if you are a healthcare worker or other employee essential to our response, we still need you to get to work and to the vital jobs you are doing. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you and recognize that you are the front lines in this fight.”
Businesses that play an important role in public health, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and medical offices, are allowed to remain open past 8 p.m., Murphy said. Other businesses, such as casinos, gyms, movie theaters and nightclubs, will close completely until health officials consider them safe to reopen.
Murphy said all nonessential businesses are required to close at 8 p.m. every day and must follow social distancing guidelines during operating hours. He said they have to limit their occupancy to no more than 50 individuals at a time to allow them to keep a 6-foot distance between one another.
All bars and restaurants must close for dine-in services until further notice, he said. They may continue to operate for take-out and delivery services only. Murphy also said all gatherings with more than 50 individuals will be canceled after 8 p.m. on Monday. He said there are very limited exceptions to this restriction.
Murphy's restrictions on mass gatherings are in accordance with the new guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recently advised against holding gatherings of more than 50 people for at least eight weeks, according to Politico.
Dory Devlin, University spokesperson, said Rutgers officials are currently determining whether this recommendation will prevent campus from reopening April 3.
"A decision will be announced before the end of spring break," Devlin said. "University officials are discussing how the CDC guidelines and the evolving COVID-19 situation may impact commencement ceremonies and other University events."
During the press conference, Murphy reiterated an announcement made by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), saying all MVC stations have been closed for at least two weeks. This comes after the New Jersey MVC announced that an automatic two-month extension will be given to any residents who need to renew their driver’s licenses, vehicle registration or vehicle inspection by May 31, according to The Daily Targum.
Murphy also included that as of this week, he is mobilizing the New Jersey National Guard to assist in any way necessary.
“We do not take any of these steps lightly. We know that each comes with its own set of impacts on residents and families, on communities and on local businesses,” Murphy said. “But at this moment, our paramount concern must be to flatten the curve of new cases so we do not overload our healthcare system. We must all take seriously the need for social distancing that can help slow the spread of (COVID-19).”
Murphy said it is becoming increasingly clear not all New Jersey residents are taking the need for social distancing seriously. He said while it is not a time to panic, it is also not a time for business to proceed as usual.
“The amount of anecdotes we get: Everything on one end from bars you literally can’t get into over the weekend, to not one single roll of toilet paper left in the entire state, we got to bring radically, dramatically and immediately that behavior on both ends into a more equitable, more reasonable, more rational reality,” he said. “We cannot allow the business-as-usual culture to continue.”
While the number of those affected is heavily skewed toward older individuals, Murphy said you could be asymptomatic and a carrier of COVID-19. He said you may be putting more vulnerable populations at risk by not following proper social distancing measures.
During a call with President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Murphy said they discussed New Jersey being 1 of 12 states to put up testing sites in collaboration with the federal government, more specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“On our call today, I pressed (Trump) and (Pence) and their teams for more personal protective equipment for our frontline public health workers, more on-the-ground assistance — à la the FEMA help in setting up for testing — and to prepare to support our businesses, our workers and our economy when we come out of this emergency, which we inevitable will do,” he said.
In the end, Murphy said the state of New Jersey will emerge stronger if everyone does this part.
“To all New Jerseyans, I wish you nothing but safety and good health,” he said. “Let’s do this together.”