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New Jersey Eases COVID-19 Restrictions on Retail, Construction Sites, Gatherings in Cars

Gov. Phil Murphy announced further easing of stay-at-home restrictions due to the coronavirus on May 13, stating “the data shows that we are ready to begin to restart our economy.”

Starting on May 18, retail stores can offer limited service and construction sites can resume activity. Additionally, the governor clarified rules on gatherings of people in cars.

Furthermore, Murphy stated guidance will be made on either May 14 or 15 in regards to elective surgeries, how beaches and lake communities will be able to operate and how voters will cast their ballots for the July 7 primary. 

More Steps Ahead

“Over the coming days and weeks, we’ll be able to take more steps,” said the governor. “We’re moving slowly and deliberately because any misstep risks further outbreaks. When public health tells us it is safe to remove a restriction, we’ll remove it. Not a moment before. Not a moment after.”

For non-essential retail stores, small businesses will be able to open for curbside pickup only. Retail businesses operating in shopping malls are permitted to operate by curbside pickup, but staff must bring the goods to customers at the exterior of the mall. The indoor portions of shopping malls remain off limits.

Retail Rules

The executive order’s guideline for retail operations include transactions handled in advance to avoid person-to-person contact; customers are to notify retailers once they arrive, or schedule their arrival time in advance; and businesses must follow social distancing and mitigation practices, including requiring workers to wear cloth face coverings when in contact with other workers or customers and gloves when in contact with goods or customers. 

Asked why those restrictions are still in place as opposed to big box and grocery stores, Murphy said “We do not want people congregating. We are still under a stay-at-home order.”

For construction, the order mandates sites to follow social distancing guidelines, clear posting of safety protocols, workers must wear face coverings, nonessential visitors are not allowed, work hours will be staggered, break times will be limited, and proper sanitation required.

Flattening Success

“The success we’ve had flattening the curve gives us confidence that we’ll be able to announce the end of more restrictions in the days and weeks ahead,” said Murphy. “There is no light switch we can flip—we can only slowly raise the dimmer.”

As for the clarification on car gatherings, those now permitted include drive-in movies, religious services and drive-through farms and safaris.  

Those participating in the gatherings must remain in their same car throughout the gathering, the vehicle must remain closed at all times unless there is six feet of distance between vehicles, organizers in vehicles must follow social distancing and wear cloth face coverings; and any payments are to be done are contactless or done beforehand.

Slowly, Deliberately

The move comes the day after state officials rolled out the framework for expanded testing and contact tracing for COVID-19, two key initiatives cited by Murphy needed to be in place to reopen New Jersey. In a program estimated to cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” the governor established a floor of processing 20,000 tests a day in the state by the end of May and building a contact tracing corps doubling the number currently employed in the state. 

The first-ter, Democratic governor noted data comparing the peak to now shows the state is ready to begin to restart the economy. He cited new hospitalizations being down by two thirds, total hospitalizations down nearly half, patients in ICUs and on ventilators continuing to decline, positive cases down nearly 70% and deaths decreasing by more than a third.

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