Police in New Jersey may soon start charging people with a crime for attending gatherings in violation of curfew and social-distancing orders aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus, state officials said Tuesday.

And the same afternoon, local police in Ocean County did just that — charging two parents and several guests, including a 99-year-old man for a party on Spruce Street in Lakewood.

Monday night in Newark, police busted 21 separate incidents, closed 15 businesses and issued 161 summonses.

Last week, police across the state charged numerous people with violating the orders.

On Friday, police in Ewing busted a house party that had been promoted as a "Corona party." Only the apartment tenant was charged, with prosecutors saying that police were correct to not charge all 40 people at the event because of safety concerns.

State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said up until now, the host of a gathering has been the only one held criminally responsible but “we need maybe to shift to everybody at that gathering is going to be cited.”

He said authorities may still use discretion in some cases, "but I think you’re going to see if those large gatherings happen, that everybody there is going to be charged.”

Callahan said everyone at a gathering may either be exposed to the virus or giving it to someone else.

“When law enforcement has to go to a large gathering, those law enforcement officers are now exposing themselves as well. This is a close-up hands on profession," Callahan said Tuesday.

In the Lakewood incident Tuesday, Yaakov Kaufman, 47, and Eti Kaufman, 45, hosted a gathering inside their home on Spruce Street and on the front lawn, according to Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer. The parents were each charged with six counts of child endangerment for each of their six minor children who were at the party, Billhimer said.

Another eight attendees were charged with violating the governor's ban on gatherings.

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Lakewood has hundreds of positive cases of COVID-19, which makes up the largest portion of the 1,022 cases reported in Ocean County by the state Department of Health. It's also caught media attention for a series of private gatherings, and state officials say they've been in touch with community leaders to stress the need for compliance with.

But Murphy has also made several calls not to not blame individual communities or minority groups for issues of compliance and said an overwhelming number of residents are following the order. This weekend, State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said law enforcement had broken up 70 gatherings across the state, in various communities, to date.

On Tuesday, addressing incidents statewide, Murphy expressed anger about some individuals not doing what they’re supposed to.

“We’re going to take aggressive action, whether it’s the State Police, local, county prosecutors, whatever it might be,” he said. “We have got to bring compliance to 100% and if we don’t, we’ll be living with this longer and the consequences will be more severe.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, state Sen. Jim Holzapfel, R-Ocean, and Assemblymen Greg McGuckin, R-Ocean, and John Catalano,, R-Ocean, announced they will introduce legislation to create significant monetary penalties for those who host gatherings in violation of the Emergency Health Powers Act. The measure would establish a monetary penalty of $10,000 to $15,000 for anyone who willfully or knowingly hosts a public gathering.

Murphy said some violators may ignorant while others think "this is somebody else’s problem."

“But it isn’t," he said. "No one is above it. This isn’t about you — it’s about us. Now is the time to be selfless, not selfish.”

Callahan said he doesn’t understand why people aren’t concerned about their own health.

“And if you’re not thinking about yourself then at least think about our first responders and our law enforcement because we are going to take action," he said.

“One gathering is one too many. We’ve been talking about it for four weeks now. Everyone cease and desist on the public gatherings.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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