Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order for all residents to stay at home until further notice, beginning March 21.
“We are at war with this virus,” Murphy declared. “These restrictions should be looked at in weeks and months. The chances are overwhelming that we’re not going back to school a week from Monday.”
The order provides for exceptions, including obtaining essential goods or services, seeking medical attention, visiting family or close friends, reporting to work or engaging in outdoor activities.
Key to Stopping Spread
“I know these actions are strong…We know the virus spreads through person-to-person contact, and the best way to prevent further exposure is to limit our public interactions to only the most essential purposes,” said Murphy. “This is a time for us all to come together in one mission to ‘flatten the curve’ and slow—and eventually halt—the spread of coronavirus.”
“Social distancing is the key to stopping this,” added Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
Stores allowed to continue to open their doors include:
- Grocery stores, farmer’s markets and farms selling directly to customers;
- Pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries;
- Medical supply stores;
- Gas stations;
- Convenience stores;
- Ancillary stores within healthcare facilities;
- Hardware and home improvement stores;
- Banks and other financial institutions;
- Laundromats and dry-cleaning services;
- Stores selling supplies for children under five years;
- Pet stores;
- Liquor stores;
- Auto maintenance and repair at car dealerships, and auto mechanics;
- Printing and office supply shops;
- Mail and delivery stores.
Workers exempted are those who need to be on site in order to perform their duties, specifically first responders such as police officers, EMTs and firefighters; janitorial and custodial staff; cashiers or store clerks; construction, utility, warehouse, IT maintenance and repair workers; and lab researchers.
The state previously shut down schools, movie theaters, casinos, racetracks, personal care businesses, performing arts centers, shopping malls, amusement parks, amusement centers, clubs, gyms and bars. Restaurants are limited to offering delivery and takeout only. The state has banned gatherings larger than 50 including weddings, funerals, religious rites and house parties as well.
Murphy said “We expect people to stay home. We want you off the roads. That’s now 24 hours. We don’t want you out there. Period.”
Overruling Home Rule
A second executive order invalidates any county or municipal restriction conflicting with the stay at home order. Municipalities or counties cannot make any additions or deletions from the list of essential retail businesses; impose any additional limitations on businesses; impose any additional density or social distancing requirements; or impose any additional restrictions on freedom of movement without approval from the state.
Exceptions where local governments may impose any additional restrictions are at municipal or county parks.
“We want people out exercising, but you must practice social distancing,” said Murphy.
Over 1K Cases
As of March 21, the number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey climbed to 1,326, with 442 new cases announced by the state and five new deaths, bringing that total to 16. The deaths included a male in his 80s from Essex county, a male in his 40s from Bergen county, a female in her 70s from Morris county and a male in his 90s from Bergen county.
The numbers by county was led by Bergen at 363, followed by Middlesex at 116, Essex at 107, Hudson at 97, Monmouth at 92, Union at 81, Passaic at 67, Morris at 62, Ocean at 62, Somerset at 34, Mercer at 30, Burlington at 21, Camden at 15, Hunterdon at 14, Gloucester and Sussex counties at six, Warren at five, Atlantic at four, and Cape May at two and Cumberland at one. Salem County was the only one to not have a case.
The governor said 140 cases remain under investigation.
Officials say numbers are increasing at an expected rate as more testing becomes available. To that end, the state is partnering with the private sector, including LabCorp and BioReference Laboratories, to increase the availability of COVID-19 testing for state residents.
“Every minute and hour of every day, we are taking aggressive steps to address the COVID-19 emergency,” said Murphy. “I am particularly proud testing for COVID-19 is now being done in our state by private sector labs, at LabCorp’s facility in Raritan, and at BioReference’s lab in Elmwood Park.”
In addition, the state’s Public Health and Environmental Laboratories will soon be able to process over 1,000 tests a day and is developing specimen collection kits in order to relieve shortages of critical kit components.
In tandem, these critical steps will enable a much-needed expansion of testing that will identify more COVID-19 tests and save lives, according to state officials.
“Right now, more than ever, we must come together as one community to ensure we’re combating the coronavirus outbreak on every front,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer. “That includes working to expand testing and improve processing time, so more New Jersey residents who may have the virus can actually be tested and know the result sooner.”
Additionally, with an eye towards paying all that is being done to fight the pandemic, the coalition formed by the governors of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania wants the federal government to consider a fiscal stimulus in the form of a direct cash assistance program. The governors believe an immediate financial infusion to all four states will help cover costs related to COVID-19 response operations.