NJ sets voluntary statewide curfew, and casinos, bars, gyms closing until further notice
New Jerseyans should not leave their homes from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., as Gov. Phil Murphy announced an extraordinary action of recommending a statewide curfew for his 9 million residents in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
All casinos, bars, movie theaters, nightclubs, performing arts centers and gyms must shut down at 8 p.m. Monday and will remain closed until further notice in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, the three governors announced Monday. People can no longer go to a restaurant to dine in, but restaurants can still provide delivery and takeout. The businesses must remain closed until the state governments say they can reopen.
"Everyone needs to stay in and be safe," Murphy said in a phone call with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont to announce the new restrictions. “And we can’t say this enough, that everyone needs to stay in and be safe, and just because you don’t feel sick, and this is a particular shout-out to our young people, it doesn’t mean you aren’t carrying the virus.”
More on NJ curfew:What's open, what's closed and how long it's expected to last
On Monday, Murphy also ordered all public and private schools, universities and colleges to close statewide starting Wednesday, March 18, in an executive order. The schools will stay closed "until such time is deemed by health officials to be safe for classes to resume," he said.
In New Jersey, 178 people have tested positive for COVID-19 as of March 16, its largest one-day spike in cases since the state announced its first case. The victims' ages range from 5 to 93. Bergen County announced additional cases Monday that brought its total to 61, the most positive cases of any county in New Jersey. At least three people have died.
“I saw too many videos last night of packed bars, people passing bottles, drinking from the same bottle, literally globbed on top of each other,” Murphy said Sunday, after saying he was considering the curfew. “In short of shutting the entire state down, clipping establishments by a number of hours each night in particular we believe will have a meaningful, positive outcome in terms of social distancing.”
President Donald Trump said Monday that the public should avoid groups of more than 10 people.
The governors of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, all Democrats, announced they would follow the CDC's guidelines and were critical of the Trump administration's response, saying it has fallen behind in its response to the fast-spreading virus. The decision means the three states' casinos, gyms, movie theaters, bars and restaurants would close at 8 p.m. Monday and not reopen.
Other "non-essential" businesses can remain open during the day but have to close each day at 8 p.m., make sure they have no more than 50 people inside the establishment and ensure that people stay 6 feet apart.
Essential businesses necessary for the public’s health and welfare, like supermarkets and grocery stores, pharmacies, medical offices and gas stations, may remain open past 8 p.m.
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Murphy announced that all "non-essential travel" between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on "any given day" is highly discouraged.
"Unless you need to be out, we want you to be at home," Murphy said.
So if you are driving to work, work at a warehouse or are visiting a sick relative, that's OK, Murphy said.
"You're going over to a buddy’s house to drink: No, sorry," Murphy said. "We won't look kindly upon big private-property parties."
The measure is a "strong recommendation," but Murphy said he would consider a mandate, saying, "If we see there is willful disregard, we reserve the right to ratchet up the pressure, including legally law enforcement and otherwise."
The states are also banning gatherings of more than 50 people.
"Having regional coordination at a minimum is imperative," Cuomo said. "If you can’t do a party in New York City, you can’t do a party in New Jersey, you can't do a party in Connecticut over 50."
If someone violates the executive order, such as operating a non-essential business past 8 p.m., or does not shut down a gym, county and local law enforcement will consider it a disorderly persons offense.
"It’s a case-specific analysis, and they will try to protect behavior, but everyone should assume it will be enforced," Murphy said.
The New Jersey National Guard will also begin to assist the state, helping convert buildings for quarantines, bringing a closed hospital back online and helping with testing and distributing food, among other needs.
State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan said FEMA will staff two drive-thru testing centers, one at Bergen Community College and a second at PNC Bank Arts Center in Monmouth County. FEMA will support New Jersey with tents, protective gear, testing kits, "boots on the ground" and planning, Callahan said.
Municipalities began taking steps of their own last week to try to slow the spread.
Teaneck's mayor asked all residents to self-quarantine. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop announced that non-emergency medical offices in the city would close. Morristown ordered restaurants to offer only takeout and delivery, and banned establishments from serving alcohol. Ridgewood closed all village offices, playgrounds and recreational sites, and Montclair banned gatherings of 250 or more. Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla called for a 10 p.m. curfew.
Clifton, which now has four positive cases, announced that City Hall, Boys and Girls Club of Clifton, the recreation center and other city facilities will be closed to the public until further notice.
New York City shut down all public schools, and limited restaurants and bars to offering only takeout and delivery starting on Tuesday.
Murphy declared a state of emergency and a public health emergency on March 9 to give state officials more resources and the authority to respond to the pandemic.
Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to her work covering New Jersey’s legislature and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.