NJ shutting indoor shopping centers, malls — Closed hospitals may reopen
The new normal in New Jersey now means no more shopping at malls, no hanging out at arcades and no family outings at amusement parks.
In other words, people really need to stay home.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday ordered these retail and entertainment venues closed starting 8 p.m. March 17. They will remain closed during the coronavirus public health state of emergency.
The measure — announced on a day that the state's known positive cases reached 267 with a death toll of three people — follows previous orders this week that closed schools, casinos and race tracks, nightclubs, theaters, gyms, and implemented an 8 p.m. curfew for other non-essential retail and entertainment businesses. Many business that can have been allowing their employees to work from home.
Restaurants have been asked to limit their service to take-out and delivery. Businesses providing non-essential goods and services also should limit their occupancy to 50 people.
Restaurants that are part of malls but have their own entrances, will be allowed to continue to operate, Murphy said.
Murphy on Tuesday also said he had sent a letter to President Donald Trump and called Vice President Mike Pence to request that the Army Corps of Engineers provide New Jersey with help building temporary field hospitals if necessary. Trump on Tuesday morning said he had received the same request from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which Trump promised to follow through along with a $850 billion emergency economic stimulus package for the entire nation.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Tuesday said that state officials have been speaking with hospital CEOs about reopening as many as three of the eight acute care hospitals that have been closed in recent years in order to increase critical-care capacity.
"If we open hospital wings or facilities and we don't need them, that will be the best mistake we ever made," Murphy said.
Persichilli also said that the state and hospital executives are working on plans to convert now-unused hospital departments and wings into negative-pressure facilities, which could provide up to 185 additional rooms to treat COVID-19 cases. Between all of the state's hospitals, which have been operating close to capacity, the state has just several hundred negative-pressure rooms needed to safely treat infected patients.
Actions by federal and state governments in recent weeks have been aimed at what health officials term "flattening the curve," meaning reducing the number of patients seeking treatment at hospitals at one given time.
Murphy's announcement about malls preempted a Monday order by Bergen County James Tedesco closing all retail stores in the county, which has had the most coronavirus cases and two of the state's three deaths from the disease. The county later delayed the order until Saturday before Murphy's announcement.
The governor said Tuesday that while local officials' hearts are in the right place, the state makes the final call.
"In certain circumstances, it may make sense for certain localities to take actions relating to those unique concerns," Murphy said. "We are very mindful of these actions and are reviewing them individually to ensure they are fully aligned with our statewide guidance. Where necessary we will support these actions but where also necessary we will override them. We ask county and local officials to closely work with us before making any local directive."
Tedesco and the county spokesman did not immediately return New Jersey 101.5's request for more information on Tuesday.
Prior to the governor's order on Tuesday only one mall had completely closed: Willowbrook Mall in Wayne. It closed on Monday night in compliance with an order issued by the township.
Other malls around the state had adjusted their operating hours to open later and close earlier. The Cherry Hill Mall said it will not be hosting the Easter Bunny this year. The iPlay America amusement center in Freehold Borough had already closed as well.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.