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State officials address educational, financial difficulties from coronavirus pandemic

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The number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in New Jersey reached 178,345 total this week with 13,845 deaths, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

During a press conference on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed a new executive order that allows contact drills, practices and competition for high-risk sports to resume. He said all sports will be required to follow multiple health protocols, such as screenings for COVID-19, limited use of shared equipment and adequate sanitation practices.

Murphy also announced the creation of the Small Business Lease - Emergency Assistance Grant Program (SBL-EAGP) this week, according to a press release. This program gives businesses from 64 state municipalities the opportunity to apply for grants totaling $10,000 for lease costs. This program is meant to aid small business owners and landlords who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The (SBL-EAGP) is directly geared toward keeping the mom-and-pop shops on main streets and business centers afloat in this time of need, specifically in our most vulnerable communities in New Jersey," said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (D-N.J.), according to the release. "(Murphy) and I remain as committed as ever to supporting New Jersey's small businesses and this new lease program will work hand-in-hand with other state assistance programs to help them emerge from this crisis stronger."

In order to apply for a grant through this program, individuals must be tenants leasing a commercial space in mixed-use buildings, leasing a space in commercial buildings or leasing a space to operate a storefront business, according to the release.

Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Education released guidance today that allows parents to choose all-remote learning for their children for the upcoming academic year, according to a press release.

"My office and the Department of Education are committed to working with our families, educators and administrators as we navigate the unique challenges that the 2020-2021 school year will bring," Murphy said, according to the release. "We will continue to communicate with our districts and will work diligently to find solutions that prioritize the safety of our students and staff. Today's guidance will allow parents greater flexibility to make the choice they feel best suits the needs of their families."

This guidance states that all students are eligible for fully remote learning, and that school districts will need to set policies and procedures for families who choose this option, according to the release.

During today's press conference, Murphy said the Federal Transit Administration has supplied 245,000 face masks to New Jersey Transit for commuters.

"As we have discussed, masking is required on all NJ Transit buses, trains, lights rails, as well as on all private carriers," he said. "With these masks, we will be able to ensure greater compliance with this requirement. We will be better prepared to ensure that all riders are protected."

Murphy also spoke on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his lack of creating an economic relief bill that would provide direct assistance to states.

"This is a matter of survival. (McConnell's) inability to ready a bill for a vote, pushing an important decision to the last minute, threatens the ability of states, including ours, to be able to safeguard for the long term our public health and safety, educational, infrastructure and other initiatives," he said. "Not to mention that the unemployed and the millions of middle class families are still left twisting in McConnell's political breeze."

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