Howell shut down all parks over large crowds
UPDATE: Howell Township revised its park closure policy on Wednesday afternoon and will allow organized youth sports leagues to immediately continue using township parks and called their COVID-19 plans an example for others to follow.
"They have observed proper protocols and have taken responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others," read the statement on the township website.
Lakewood public works crews will be helping to sanitize the parks which are expected to re-open for “passive recreation” within the next several days. Until then playground and other "high-touch" areas will remain closed
The township also said it cannot restrict use of the parks to residents because it’s not legal. Other towns which have tried to restrict use were sued not only for unlawful discrimination but also for violating the terms of New Jersey Green Acres grants, which require parks to be open to all.
The township said it needed to do a "hard stop" on park use "to ensure the safety of everyone."
Large crowds are being blamed for closing all parks in Howell Township and bringing scrutiny to another in Westfield.
Howell's Office of Emergency Management coordinator Victor Cook closed down all township parks on Tuesday under an emergency order because of complaints about large crowds and users not practicing social distancing and not wearing masks, he said in a notice to residents. Violators could face fines of up to $1,000 or six months in jail — or both — allowable under Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order No. 107, according to Cook. The order went into effect immediately.
The township borders Lakewood in Ocean County, which has the highest number of reported coronavirus cases and is one of the state’s hot spots.
Howell has Monmouth County’s second-highest number of coronavirus cases, with a total of 921 cases as of Tuesday — reflecting a recent uptick, according to the Monmouth County Department of Health. Middetown leads the county with 1,036 positive cases as of Tuesday,
The order also created confusion over youth sports teams that use fields in the parks after Patch of Howell reported teams were told to leave. Howell American Youth Football & Cheerleading on its Facebook page said it was "surprised" by the shutdown and was working on getting answers from the township so their season could continue.
"Over the next few days the township will be discussing how to better handle this situation and get our kids out on the fields for fall ball, soccer and football," Bonevich wrote.
Howell mayor Theresa Berger has not yet responded to a message from New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday morning.
Westfield is trying to keep teens from gathering in Mindowaskin Park at night and on weekends without following social distancing and masking protocols, according to mayor Mayor Shelley Brindle.
"In recent weeks, there have been dozens of teens — estimated to be up to 100 at times — gathering at night, on and around the playground, which officially closes at dusk," Brindle wrote on her Facebook page. She said playground equipment has been broken, trash thrown around and rocks thrown at cars.
A recently assigned juvenile bureau officer was taunted with chants of "we won't go" when he tried to break up the crowds, according to Brindle.
"Two young adults in the park in the early evening hours for charges relating to controlled dangerous substance use," Brindle wrote.
The mayor said that she is the parent of teens and understands the need for socialization during the current coronavirus pandemic, but called the behavior of the teens in the park "unacceptable" and said it "jeopardizes public safety, community health, public property, and the quality of life for nearby residents."
New signs are being put up, spotlights temporarily placed in the parks and police patrols increased, according to Brindle. Masks will be required and those without them will be told to leave, Brindle wrote.