Murphy gives cities leeway on imposing COVID restrictions
With New Jersey now averaging more than 3,000 new COVID cases a day, hospitalizations on the rise and the spot positivity rate shooting through the roof, Gov. Phil Murphy is allowing local officials to impose additional curfew restrictions on non-essential businesses.
His latest executive order allows municipalities and counties to to regulate business hours after 8 p.m.
Murphy said this is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
“Our approach to this second wave is to act surgically within hot-spot areas,” he said. “That means giving local officials the ability to take actions to prevent localized hot-spots from becoming COVID wildfires.”
In Newark, residents in some neighborhoods are facing a 9 p.m. weekday curfew and 10 p.m. weekend curfew announced by Mayor Ras Baraka on Wednesday.
In Newark, indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people, and all sports in the city are suspended for at least two weeks. The city also is restricting visitation at long-term health care facilities for the same duration.
At a news conference Thursday, Baraka said recent data shows the percentage of positive cases in Newark has risen from around 6 percent to more than 19 percent in the last month, with some neighborhoods far above that level.
“The data is reminiscent of April and May, and we cannot afford to go back there," he said. "As a matter of fact, it’s better to say we are back where we were in April and May. It's difficult for everybody, and it's going to take all of us to make sacrifices for this thing to go away. We're not a city of individuals, we’re a city of neighborhoods, of communities, and we have to take care of each other.”
Newark has recorded more than 13,000 cases and 680 deaths since the start of the pandemic, Baraka said.
Tony Aquino, who owns Diame's Cafe in north Newark in one of the areas affected by the curfew, said business had gotten better a few months ago when the virus appeared to recede, but that foot traffic had slowed considerably lately and would be reduced more by the curfew.
“We're trying to survive right now,” he said. “We have to keep paying the rent, the garbage, the electric, the gas, the employees. It’s a lot. And it’s not easy. My wife had a dream, she made this place and we tried to do what we can to keep it running. But only God knows what’s going to happen.”
Newark's new restrictions go beyond statewide measures announced earlier in the week by Murphy, who ordered bars and restaurants to halt indoor dining between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. beginning Thursday.
Nonessential businesses in Newark already must close at 8 p.m. and restaurant and bars must cease indoor service at 8 p.m., under an executive order signed by the mayor two weeks ago.
Murphy referenced a new study in the journal Nature that concludes indoor venues “accounted for roughly 80% of new infections in the early months of the pandemic.”
“We’ve received numerous reports that as the night progresses, people begin to congregate, let their guard down and take fewer precautions," Murphy said Thursday. "We know this is not true everywhere, so we are empowering local officials to address unique situations when they feel that an operating hours restriction in the evening would help their efforts to stop the spread of COVID.”
The state already has a new restriction that closes bars and restaurants at 10 p.m. every night.
Local governments are not allowed to fully close businesses or change the state's restrictions on capacity.
He said if these types of decisions were allowed it would lead to people traveling to other communities and potentially spreading the virus.
Murphy said the coronavirus challenges the state now faces are different from those in the spring, when drastic action was needed to control state-wide spread.
“Today we have a much stronger testing regime in place and we have a greater ability to effectively mobilize hot-spot teams and other resources,” he said. “By working alongside and through local health and public safety officials we believe we can have a more effective and efficient means of attacking this virus in the second wave.”
Includes material Copyright 2020 by The Associated Press.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com