‘Not fake news’ — NJ cases nearly double to 178, ages 5-93
New Jersey's confirmed novel coronavirus cases have nearly doubled once again — surging by 80 to 178 — Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday as he admonished those characterizing the outbreak as "fake news" or a minor concern.
Of the new cases 32 alone were in Bergen County, by far New Jersey's largest cluster. Others were spread throughout Burlington, Camden, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset and Union Counties.
The virus has been confirmed in 14 of New Jersey's 21 counties so far, with the greatest concentrations in the northern part of the state."
Those newly confirmed cases are for people whose ages range from 5 to 93, Murphy said in a mid-day press conference with other state officials.
Murphy and other state officials made the announcement mid-day Monday as the governor admonished those dismissing the virus as a minor, passing matter; those who crowded bars this weekend for St. Patrick's Day; and those who remain unconcerned because they, personally, aren't likely to fall severely ill.
"This is not a time for selfishness," Murphy said. "This is a time to think of those around you." And he said it was "very obvious" this weekend that message hadn't hit home for many in the state.
And he said without drastic changes to New Jerseyans' daily business, the state's efforts to "flatten the curve" — to reduce the spread of the coronavirus" — would be in vein.
"This is not fake news," Murphy said. "This is real."
The update comes the same day Murphy issued orders both closing all schools to all but remote instruction, effective Wednesday and severely curtailing operations for most businesses. After Monday night, all restaurants will be ordered to end dine-in service, providing take-out and delivery only. Entertainment operations including theaters, casinos and racetracks, as well as gyms, will have to shut down entirely. Most other businesses will have 8 p.m. curfews. Supermarkets and gas stations will be allowed to stay open.
State officials are also discouraging any travel from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Gatherings of 50 or more are barred.
"Frankly, if you asked me about an exception, I'm not sure I've got a good answer for you," Murphy said. Also Monday, President Donald Trump recommended people avoid gatherings of any more than 10 people.
As of mid-day, the state still hadn't published a comprehensive list of what businesses would be under which restrictions. But Murphy in the press conference said deliveries would continue and day care centers aren't ordered closed. He said he hadn't been asked by other officials about warehouses, but "I think you should assume" they'll stay open.
He said "we don't look kindly" on big house parties, but deferred to local authorities for enforcement.
"The good news is online gaming will continue. The bad news is there won't be much to wager on," Murphy said.
In other announcements from Murphy and other state officials Monday:
• Testing availability will expand this week, with multiple hospitals and private providers setting up testing operations, and with aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli said.
Tamara Hejab, with Riverside Medical Group, told New Jersey 101.5 drive-through testing has been available in Secaucus since Friday. It's appointment-only, with testing Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 10 to 1 p.m. Patients are screened by phone and referred as needed, she said. As of Monday, the center had seen 70 patients who could expect results in three to five days.
A second drive-through location was expected to open in Medford, in Burlington County, at an existing Riverside office.
• Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet said the state Department of Education had worked with local districts and emergency management offices to ensure free and reduced-price meals, normally distributed through schools, could be distributed through communities. He directed parents to the DOE's website for more information on arrangements, though as of mid-day Monday no detailed breakdown of per-community resources had been published. Murphy said, though, he's confident both the educational and meal needs of New Jersey students will be met during the schools closure.
• The National Guard has been mobilized and will be working with local officials on community needs. Brigadier General Jemal J. Beale said members would be in uniform in New Jersey towns, working on a host of issues.
• Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said social services would remain available for communities in need.
• Most state employees will be working from home after individual departments institute plans this week.
New Jersey's restrictions, announced Monday, expand on several already in place in individual communities:
• Hoboken Sunday announced overnight curfews starting Monday, and restricted eat-in dining.
• West New York instituted overnight curfews. It also ordered all daycare centers to be closed from Tuesday through at least March 27.
• Morristown also barred eat-in dining and drinking in its restaurants and bars.
• Teaneck has asked all residents to self-quarantine. The Bergen County community has seen at least 18 positive coronavirus cases, accounting for the biggest cluster in a hard-hit county.
• The newly opened American Dream mall closed Monday.
• Westfield said it was closing foot traffic with all non-essential businesses in its downtown Special Improvement District, with the exception of pharmacies, health care providers and grocery stores. It asked other businesses including restaurants, shops, gyms and day care centers to close voluntarily. It said dental offices should be open for emergencies only.
• Red Bank ordered closed all non-essential businesses with occupancies of 25 or more, including all restaurants, bars, private gyms and theaters. It barred all eat-in dining and drinking, and all alcohol sales after Monday night.
• Plainfield instituted overnight curfews and barred eat-in dining.