New Jersey Closes State, County Parks; Murphy Doubtful on Graduation Ceremonies

In what he considers one of the few pockets left before ordering a full lockdown, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all state and county parks closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The executive order was one of four the governor signed April 7, including extending the declared public health emergency another 30 days.

“We have seen far too many instances where people have gathered in groups in parks erroneously thinking since they are outside social distancing doesn’t matter,” stated Murphy. “Nothing can be further than the truth.”

Close to Home

Residents are allowed to exercise outside under the governor’s stay at home order, though Murphy stressed it should be close to their homes while observing social distancing rules. The decision on whether local town parks may remain open still is left up to municipalities.

The closures come as the state recorded its highest single-day death total of the outbreak. 

As of April 7, the number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey climbed to 44,416 with 3,361 new cases and 232 new deaths, bringing that total to 1,232. Of the 1,232 deaths, Bergen had the most of any county with 263, while other North Jersey county totals include Essex at 232, Hudson at 103, Morris at 87, Passaic at 62, Sussex at 15 and Warren with seven.

Statistical Breakdown

Of the statewide deaths, 60% were male and 40% female with 44% of those who had passed having underlying medical conditions. Additionally, 10% of the fatalities were residents of long-term care facilities.

The racial breakdown of 729 of the recorded deaths was as follows: 60% are white, 24% are black, 5% Asian and 11% another race.

Bergen is still the primary hot spot in the state with 7,533 total cases, followed by Essex at 5,078, Hudson at 4,949, Union at 4,538, Passaic at 4,101, Middlesex at 3,717, Monmouth at 2,770, Ocean at 2,641, Morris at 2,239, Somerset at 1,033, Mercer at 837, Camden at 736, Burlington at 733, Sussex at 331, Gloucester at 311, Warren at 255, Hunterdon at 234, Atlantic at 144, Cape May at 94, Cumberland at 71 and Salem at 31. 

Another 2,220 cases and five deaths remain under investigation to determine the county where the infected person resides.

Over 7K Hospitalized

In New Jersey, just over 7,000 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. Of those patients, 1,651 are in intensive care units with 94% on ventilators. 

There have been 50,558 negative tests for COVID-19 in New Jersey so far, with the state record a positive rate of approximately 44%. The state is currently only testing those showing symptoms.  

Long-term Facility Plan

A growing concern is the state of long-term care facilities in the state. Persichilli said 188 of New Jersey’s 375 long-term care facilities have at least one positive test for coronavirus, beit a resident or a staff member. As a result, the state is planning to implement a statewide coordinated response to help those facilities.

“We have to develop a statewide plan to assist the nursing homes that are experiencing outbreaks and shortage of staff and equipment,” she said.

School Waivers

The other two executive orders dealt with the education. The first extended certain deadlines for school districts with elections in May, including the deadline for certifying tax levy to the county tax board; the deadline for notifying non tenured staff and extending school board terms until the election in May.

The second order waives school year assessment requirements for eighth grade and twelfth grade students. 

The executive order waives the graduation assessment requirement for twelfth grade students who have not yet met the assessment requirement and planned to submit a portfolio appeal. Approximately 13,000 students were expected to submit portfolio appeals this year. 

Grad Ceremonies Doubtful

When questioned on graduation ceremonies being held at the end of the school year for colleges or high schools, Murphy said he personally was doubtful although those decisions are made by local school districts.

“I hope I am wrong,” Murphy said. “I am not trying to be flippant, but I wouldn’t put any nonrefundable checks down on celebrations right now. It’s hard to say otherwise.”

The governor said he hopes schools can figure out creative alternatives, such as those already seen in the state of celebrating birthdays and weddings.

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