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Gov. Phil Murphy Shuts Down Schools; Malls in North Jersey Ordered to Close

“We must put an end to business as usual.”

When Gov. Phil Murphy said those words, he was reacting to how people needed to adjust their daily routine in the fight against the coronavirus global pandemic.

But it took on a literal meaning after some of the biggest malls in North Jersey joined all the schools and entertainment venues, including casinos, in the state being shut down in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19.

And the governor warned, “To the folks who think this isn’t real, trust me, it’s real. Stop believing folks who say this isn’t real. It’s time to be smart.” 

78 New Cases, One Death

As of March 16, the number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey climbed to 176, with 78 new cases announced by the state. A man in his 90s who was being treated at Hackensack University Medical Center was the third person in the state to die, Murphy announced.

The numbers by county were led by Bergen at 61, followed by Essex at 20, Hudson at 19, Middlesex at 17, Monmouth at 14, Passaic and Union each with 8, Mercer and Morris at 6, Burlington and Somerset at five, Camden and Ocean at 3 and Hunterdon with one. Ages of cases range from five years old to 93.  

Schools Closed

The state followed through with its plan to close all schools in the state as New Jersey announced a regional approach to combat the novel coronavirus throughout the tri-state area. Executive Order No. 104 implemented aggressive social distancing measures to mitigate further spread in New Jersey in coordination with New York and Connecticut.

The shutdown set for March 18 will affect about 1.4 million public school students and more than 115,000 teachers, while closing more than 2,500 schools across the state. Districts have been scrambling to develop plans for virtual learning, but many schools will have to resort to sending home worksheets. More than 250,000 New Jersey students don’t have access to a computer or tablet at home, according to the state.

Among the directives, all public and private preschool, elementary and secondary schools, and institutions of higher education are indefinitely closed, as well as casinos, racetracks, gyms, movie theaters and performing arts centers. Day care centers will remain open, however.

Regional Approach

The day began with Murphy joining New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announcing  a regional approach to combating coronavirus throughout the tri-state area.

Standards were put into effect at 8 pm March 16 to limit crowd capacity for social and recreational gatherings to 50 people, following an updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending the cancellation or postponement of in-person events consisting of that many people.

Restaurants and bars will close for on-premise service and move to take-out and delivery services only. These establishments will be provided a waiver for carry-out alcohol. 

‘Act Together’

“I’ve said many times over the past several days that, in our state, we are going to get through this as one New Jersey family. But if we’re all in this together, we must work with our neighboring states to act together,” said Murphy.

“This is not a war that can be won alone, which is why New York is partnering with our neighboring states to implement a uniform standard that not only keeps our people safe but also prevents ‘state shopping’ where residents of one state travel to another and vice versa,” said Cuomo.

The primary primary goal of the states is to “flatten the curve of new cases” so the wave of new infections doesn’t crash the healthcare system. The three governors agreed social distancing is the best way to do that  

“We need everyone, frankly, to stay home,” said Murphy. “In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, we must take aggressive and direct social distancing action to curtail non-essential activities in the state.”

Malls Closed

Later in the day, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco announced all malls in the county must close beginning at 11 p.m. March 17 until further notice. Restaurants in malls can stay open for takeout or delivery only.

The order bars groups of more than four people, other than family members, from assembling in public at any time. Golf courses will remain open for people to walk the course only.

Businesses exempt from Tedesco’s order include gas stations, banks, law firms, liquor stores, pet food stores and funeral parlors. Warehouse stores can sell grocery items.

Health care facilities can stay open, but dentists must close unless they are handling emergency procedures. Utility road work is suspended as well except for emergencies. 

Wayne Follows Suit

Wayne, which borders Bergen County, ordered the Willowbrook Mall and Wayne Towne Center closed indefinitely to contain the spread. The malls were to shut down March 16 with restaurants—those with exterior entrances—remaining open for delivery and takeout services.

In Hudson County, Newport Centre mall and Hudson Mall in Jersey City were closed. Additionally, non-emergency medical offices in Jersey City will join the list of establishments forced to close to limit interaction as the city announced its fourth presumptive positive case of coronavirus. 

“Non-urgent” medical offices such as dental offices, physical therapy clinics and chiropractic offices will be forced to close. Gyms, barbershops, nail salons and daycare centers were ordered to close as well.