Twenty-two days after announcing their closing, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order reopening parks and golf courses around the state.
The order will take effect at sunrise on May 2 with social distancing continuing to be mandated. The park and course openings are the first major change to the stay-at-home orders implemented to slow the COVID-19 spread in the state.
The park and golf course closings were an issue Republicans had pushed back on since the announcement, was an area polls showed some disagreement with and comes a day after state Senate leadership, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, advocated the state reopen its parks and golf course.
In explaining the change, Murphy noted the decision was data driven—citing the drop in the number of hospitalizations for 15 consecutive days—and being swayed on an argument about the needs for it from a mental health perspective. Arguments made by politicians on both sides of the aisle and even friends did not factor into the reversal, he claimed.
“Your interventions to me did not matter one little bit,” Murphy said. “So with all due respect to all the pressure that’s been out there, we couldn’t frankly care. We make this call based on data, science, fact. Trust me I did not order these closures on a whim.”
There Are Rules
Opening the parks and golf courses does come with restrictions. At golf courses, payment and reservations are to be made online; tee times are extended to 16 minute intervals for two players at a time, unless the foursome consists of immediate family or caretaker; one cart per person with exceptions made for family members or caretakers; frequent cleaning of common areas including restrooms, ranges and carts; pro shops and other amenities closed; removing bunker rakes and other furniture from the course; and no club rentals.
For state and county parks, parking lots will be limited to 50% capacity; playgrounds, restrooms, pavilions, and visitors centers will remain closed; and picnics and team sports are forbidden. Passive recreation will be allowed, including running, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, kayaking and horseback riding.
Counties and municipalities will decide whether their local parks will reopen or stay closed. Beach and boardwalk openings down the shore are dictated by local municipalities.
Murphy said the openings were in part a payment for the trust the overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans had put in the actions by state officials.
“We’re basically saying: We’re prepared to trust you,” he commented. “You’ve been trusting us…we’re returning some amount of that trust by saying, ‘We’re gonna open these ups, but you’ve got to behave in a certain way’.”
Behavior this weekend, especially adherence to social distancing and a “strong recommendation” by the governor for face coverings, will be monitored by State Park Police and local authorities and used as another data point for the state.
“I’m not trying to be a jerk about this, but if we see a congregation of people and they’re not social distancing, they’re not wearing face masks, we will reconsider,” stated Murphy. “We’re going to be looking very, very closely up and down the state this weekend.”
Death Toll Over 6K
As of April 29, the number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 116,264 with 2,481 new cases and 329 new deaths, bringing that total to 6,770.
Of the total deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,139, followed by Bergen with 1,057, Hudson at 758, Passaic at 516, Morris at 387, Sussex at 99 and Warren with 81.
The governor paused for a moment of silence after noting New Jersey has lost more residents to COVID-19 than in World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, both Gulf Wars, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Superstorm Sandy, and 9-11 combined.
The racial breakdown of the record deaths was 52% white, 20% black, 17% hispanic, 5% Asian and 5% another race. For 40,309 hospitalizations that were tracked, the breakdown was 36% white, 20% black, 18% hispanic, 5% Asian and 11% another race.
Murphy has noted the rates in the black and Hispanic communities are running about 50% more than their population in the state and vowed that any plan to reopen the state will work to reduce racial inequities in healthcare. The governor recently signed legislation mandating hospitals report age, gender, ethnicity and race of people who have tested COVID-19 positive or died from the virus.
In regards to the underlying disease of those who have passed, 60% had cardiovascular disease, 42% diabetes, 31% chronic diseases, 16% chronic renal disease, 15% neurological conditions, 11% cancer and 13% other. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli has stated most cases have multiple underlying conditions which would push the percentage of 100%.
A census of ages for 5,062 confirmed deaths shows 46% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 33% in the range of 65-80, 17% between 50-65, and 5% under the age of 49.
Bergen Tops County Count
Bergen is still the primary hot spot in the state with 15,446 total cases, followed by Hudson at 14,596, Essex at 13,445, Union at 12,380, Passaic at 12,185, Middlesex at 11,436, Ocean at 6,253, Monmouth at 5,907, Morris at 5,213, Mercer at 3,725, Camden at 3,385, Somerset at 3,372, Burlington at 2,606, Gloucester at 1,208, Atlantic at 908, Sussex at 900, Warren at 880, Cumberland at 687, Hunterdon at 583, Cape May at 305 and Salem at 227.
Another 617 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.
The amount of days it takes for a county to double its cases in all 21 counties continue to trend up, with cases in the now South doubling at a faster pace, according to Murphy. In New Jersey, it has taken more than 30 days to double in Bergen, Essex and Morris counties, 28.5 in Hudson, 28 in Sussex, 22 in Warren and 21 in Passaic.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 489 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19 and accounted for 18,045 of the cases and 3,247 of the total deaths.
In a by-county breakdown, Bergen’s 60 facilities had 3,352 residents test positive with 641 total deaths, Essex’s 46 facilities had 1,700 residents test positive with 392 total deaths, Morris’s 41 facilities had 1,179 residents test positive with 272 total deaths, Hudson’s 15 facilities had 738 residents test positive with 128 total deaths, Passaic’s 24 facilities had 929 residents test positive with 175 total deaths, Sussex’s five facilities had 285 residents test positive with 70 total deaths and Warren’s seven facilities had 252 residents test positive with 45 total deaths.
The state has processed 216,221 coronavirus tests of symptomatic individuals since the outbreak began, with 42% testing positive for COVID-19. Murphy noted that percentage has been “drifting down” for the past week. The state estimates between 9,000-11,000 tests are processed a day with results returning in about a week.
Officials reported 6,281 patients are hospitalized with coronavirus, while 474 patients were discharged on April 28. State officials noted discharge numbers going forward will not include those who have died. Murphy displayed a new chart showing hospitalizations decreasing in the North, remaining steady in the Central tier and slightly rising in the South.
There are currently 59 patients in field hospitals, with 342 treated overall. Of those hospitalized, 1,811 are in intensive care units and 1,327 are on ventilators.
Additionally, an executive order was signed allowing county and municipal clerks to accept initiative and referendum petitions electronically as well as allowing signatures for these petitions to be collected electronically.
“Now is not the time for anyone to be going door-to-door to campaign or collect signatures for any purpose,” said Gov. Murphy.
A template of the online form for electronic signature is to be created by the state for use by May 1. Clerks will require signatures for initiative and referendum petitions to be gathered electronically from that date forward, with hand signatures obtained prior to the effective date accepted.