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PERSPECTIVES: Coronavirus pandemic spreads through NJ

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The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has quickly spread throughout New Jersey over the past two months, during which many actions have been taken by both Rutgers and the state to help slow the rate of infection.

Prior to New Jersey's first case, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced the formation of the Coronavirus Task Force on Feb. 3 to develop protocols and coordinate state efforts to respond to the virus, according to The Daily Targum.

Additionally, Rutgers took several steps of its own, such as preparing facilities in the event that a member of the University community contracted the virus, as well canceling all Rutgers-sponsored study abroad programs, international spring break programs and Rutgers faculty-sponsored programs for the Spring 2020 semester, the Targum reported.

The first case of COVID-19 in New Jersey was reported on March 4 after a 32-year-old man in Fort Lee tested positive, the Targum reported. After the number of cases rose to 11, Murphy declared a state of emergency, causing state institutions, such as Rutgers, to begin planning for the potential move to remote instruction.

New Jersey's first COVID-19 related death was announced March 10, according to the Targum. At this point, residents were urged to have two weeks worth of food, water and medicine in the event that they had to self-quarantine.

Then, just days before students were set to leave for spring break, University President Robert L. Barchi announced classes for all three Rutgers campuses would be canceled beginning March 12 through the remainder of spring break, the Targum reported. While classes were set to resume on March 23, he said they would be conducted remotely until April 3 and students were told to leave campus as soon as possible.

More restrictions started to be put in place as Murphy signed an executive order on March 16 to close all public, private and parochial New Jersey schools, as well requiring all colleges and universities to cease in-person instruction, the Targum reported. All gatherings with more than 50 individuals were also canceled.

Additionally, all non-essential and non-emergency travel from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. was discouraged, according to the Targum. As a result, businesses that play an essential role in public health, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and medical offices, remained open past 8 p.m. while other businesses, such as casinos, gyms, nightclubs and movie theaters were closed completely. All other non-essential businesses were required to close at 8 p.m. everyday and follow social distancing regulations.

All bars and restaurants throughout the state were also ordered to close all dine-in services until further notice, but were allowed to continue operating for take-out and delivery services only.

The Targum reported on March 17, the following day, that Rutgers would be holding classes remotely for the remainder of the spring semester. This also required the cancelation for all University-related events, including Rutgers Day and in-person commencement ceremonies. Murphy also ordered for the closure of all indoor shopping malls, amusement parks and amusement centers until further notice.

On March 19, the Targum reported Murphy's order for the closure of all personal care businesses that were unable to comply with social distancing guidelines, such as tattoo parlors, nail salons and social clubs, until further notice.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in New Jersey was 890 with 11 deaths as of March 20, according to the Targum. The state's first federally supported drive-through testing site at Bergen Community College opened on this day as well.

Murphy issued another executive order on March 21 calling for the closure of all non-essential businesses in the state, according to the Targum. All gatherings, such as weddings, in-person services and parties, were also canceled until further notice and businesses were told to have employees work from home when possible.

New Jersey's second federally supported drive-through testing site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel opened on March 22 as the total number of COVID-19 cases rose to 1,914 with 20 deaths, according to the Targum.

As the state's healthcare system continued to struggle with having an adequate supply of hospital beds and personal protective equipment, Murphy announced a new executive order on April 2 that authorized New Jersey State Police Colonel Patrick Callahan to seize supplies from healthcare facilities that were not being operated, according to the Targum.

Additionally on April 4, Callahan signed an administrative order granting counties and municipalities the power to deny all rentals to seasonal guests for the entire length of the COVID-19 pandemic to help stop residents from relocating to shore communities.

The Targum reported New Jersey had 44,416 COVID-19 cases with 1,232 deaths as of April 7, and Murphy issued several additional executive orders. Murphy's declaration of a public health emergency for the state was extended by another 30 days. In addition, both state and county parks were required to close, while the status of municipal parks was up to the discretion of the individual municipalities.

On April 8, Murphy issued an executive order mandating that both essential employees and shoppers must wear face coverings when out in public and requiring stores to reduce their maximum capacity by 50 percent, according to the Targum. Businesses were also required to install physical barriers between cashiers and customers, as well as providing specific time slots for shoppers particularly at risk for contracting COVID-19.

The Targum reported that the COVID-19 saliva test developed by Rutgers researchers received approval from the Food and Drug Administration on April 13, 12 days after they submitted an emergency use authorization request. The development of this test aided in the expansion of New Jersey's testing capabilities.

As the state continued to take steps to combat the spread of COVID-19, a regional advisory board was formed between New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island to coordinate mitigation efforts and help guide the reopening of the region at the end of the public health emergency, according to the Targum.

Murphy appointed Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Jeh Johnson, the former secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security, as New Jersey's representatives on April 16.

Murphy then announced his plan to restart New Jersey's economy, called "The Road Back: Restoring Economic Health Through Public Health," on April 27 after the rate in which residents were contracting the virus began to stabilize, according to the Targum. This plan involves multiple steps to slowly reopen the state in a way that will not compromise the health of residents.

The Targum reported the following day that Murphy appointed 16 individuals to serve on the Governor's Restart and Recovery Commission, including University President-elect and former Northwestern University Provost Jonathan Holloway.

The members of the Commission come from a variety of fields and will discuss various issues, including public health, workforce development and transportation, as well as finding ways to maximize future federal support, review potential long-term investments and ensure that the restart and recovery plan works for each New Jersey family.

On April 29, the number of cases in New Jersey had reached 116,264 cases with 6,770 deaths, according to the Targum. Murphy issued another executive order to open all state parks and golf courses as the rate of infections continues to slow - the state's first step toward reopening since the beginning of the pandemic.

This reopening came with multiple restrictions, such as limiting parking to 50 percent of the park's capacity, prohibiting all picnics, organized activities and team sports, as well as encouraging residents to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

Yesterday, the Targum reported New Jersey had 126,744 COVID-19 cases and 7,871 deaths. Murphy also announced the state's partnership with New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts in a regional purchasing consortium, where they will collaborate to procure personal protective equipment, COVID-19 tests, ventilators and other medical equipment.

Murphy said one of his goals for rebuilding the state's economy was to have its own stockpile of equipment, putting New Jersey one step closer to its reopening.

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