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NJ, Rutgers officials issue guidelines for reopening college campuses

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New Jersey entered the second stage of its economic reopening plan as the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases reached 168,496 total with 12,835 deaths, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) held a press conference on Monday, the same day that outdoor dining, nonessential retail stores and child care services resumed operations. The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and local libraries also began offering drop-off and pickup services.

He said COVID-19 is less likely to be transmitted outdoors, which is why the state is proceeding with caution when reopening indoor areas and requiring certain restrictions such as face masks.

"Our goal is to not experience the spikes (in cases) that other states are now seeing because they rushed to open too much, too soon," Murphy said. "The results are stark. We have lost too many lives in too short a period to not heed the lessons of this virus."

The Daily Targum previously reported organized sports would be permitted to resume on June 22. On Monday, Murphy said the New Jersey Department of Health released official guidelines regarding outdoor sports, including categories stating whether an activity is low, medium or high risk.

Low-risk sports, including golf and tennis, can resume competitions on June 22. Medium-risk sports, which include baseball, softball, soccer and outdoor basketball, and high-risk sports such as football, can resume noncontact practices on June 22, Murphy said. As long as there is no significant rise in COVID-19 cases, medium-risk sports can likely resume competitions on July 6 and high-risk sports can resume full practices and competitions on July 20.

Some of the other guidelines require COVID-19 screenings for athletes, coaches and other staff, limited equipment sharing and sanitizing equipment, he said. Outdoor competitions must follow state restrictions for the number of people who can attend.

On Wednesday, Murphy signed an executive order permitting the resumption of in-person clinicals, labs or other hands-on programs at higher education institutions as well as career and training schools beginning July 1.

The Office of the Secretary of Higher Education also issued guidelines for colleges looking to reopen for in-person instruction in the summer or fall, Murphy said. The guidance includes both requirements as well as suggestions and focuses on instruction, housing, computer labs, libraries, research, student services, transportation, dining, study abroad and athletics.

Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis said the reopening of universities will be carried out in stages, but throughout the entire process colleges must promote social distancing, hand washing and other sanitization measures. Schools must also prepare to accommodate individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 or a positive diagnosis.

Students or faculty with health risks must be given the opportunity to learn or teach virtually, Smith Ellis said. Face masks will be strongly recommended for outdoor environments and required for indoor situations.

Smith Ellis said universities must also implement testing and contact tracing programs. At least 14 days before a school plans to reopen, it must submit a restart plan to the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, which will also be reviewed by the Department of Health.

In-person instruction can begin in the second stage for those in labs or clinical rotations as long as social distancing is practiced. Additionally, classes can be held completely outdoors as long as schools adhere to statewide limitations on outdoor gatherings, she said.

On-campus housing can reopen for a limited number of students as long as schools implement mandatory quarantines and close common areas. Students who need housing in order to have access to the school should be prioritized, Smith Ellis said. Dining and transportation services must align with previously issued state guidelines, and athletics programs must follow guidelines issued by both the state and their conferences.

Two days after the state released their guidance, Executive Vice President for Strategic Planning and Operations and Chief Operating Officer Antonio Calcado sent guidance for repopulating campuses called "Returning to Rutgers" in a University-wide email.

He said the document addresses a variety of potential solutions for returning to campus safely, including phased reopening, telecommuting options and mandatory face coverings, according to the email.

"The document is a living plan that will evolve, subject to change, as the world around us changes," Calcado said. "It is a framework of ideas and recommendations that incorporates best practices throughout higher education and the broader community."

The University will issue a decision regarding reopening for the Fall 2020 semester in the first week of July. No matter when students return, he said, Rutgers will be operating differently from before, according to the email.

At his press conference yesterday, Murphy announced all malls can reopen beginning June 29. All stores will be limited to 50 percent of their capacity and all shoppers and employees must wear face masks. Restaurants can offer takeout or outdoor dining, but movie theaters, arcades and other common areas will remain closed. Each individual mall should establish additional guidelines to limit congestion.

"Certainly malls are part of New Jersey culture and lore, I think as much here, if not more so than any other American state," he said. "We want these businesses to get back up and running responsibly and safely, and we ask everyone who wishes to head out to the mall to comply with the requirements in place."

At today's press conference, Murphy said the number of new COVID-19 hospitalizations has decreased by approximately 40 percent between June 4 and yesterday. During that time frame, the number of total hospitalizations, intensive care unit patients and patients on ventilators all decreased by 38 percent, 43 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

Murphy said this data is a good sign, but added that New Jerseyans must continue to take precautions against COVID-19. He said the state still has the fifth-most hospitalizations and third-most daily deaths compared to other American states.

"This is why we must all keep up with the social distancing, the face coverings (and) washing hands with soap and water," he said.