The Murphy administration signed an order over the weekend giving towns and counties the power to ban short-term seasonal rentals from accepting new guests – including hotels, motels and private residences – in a bid to halt the spread of COVID-19 at the Jersey Shore.
State officials worry residents with shore houses may abide by “stay-at-home” orders from the comfort of their beach house rather than at their primary residence, and in the process spread the virus to lower-populated Jersey Shore communities.
Those regions have much smaller emergency services and health infrastructure and could be more easily overwhelmed. The order went into effect at 8 p.m. on April 5.
North Jersey, the hardest hit so far in the state by the global pandemic, has already begun to see the early stages of a widely-expected COVID-19 patient surge, according to state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, and several hospitals have had to turn away patients.
“We have heard too many stories, especially from our Shore communities, of people trying to relocate, for the time being, into their towns from impacted areas,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at the Trenton War Memorial on Saturday during his daily COVID-19 press briefing. “This is not how social distancing works.”
“No one should be leaving their primary residence and especially for the shore communities that do not have the infrastructure – especially the health and first responder infrastructure in place, particularly off season – to accommodate an influx of residents,” Murphy added.
Shore towns such as Asbury Park and Ventnor Beach have already closed their beaches and boardwalks.
“We don’t want people traveling down there,” New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan said on Saturday.
Under the order, towns and counties cannot restrict housing done by the state as part of a shelter initiative in response to the outbreak; if residents are taking temporary state, federal or other public housing assistance; and if health care workers are taking temporary residence.
Towns and counties also cannot evict anyone from their residential property, under a prior executive order Murphy signed.
Health care workers will begin taking short-term lodging at hotels and college dormitories around the state, especially close to hospitals in COVID-19 hotspots, Murphy said on Saturday, with the aim to cut down on the distance health care workers travel and by extension, spread the virus.
As of Sunday, a total of 37,505 New Jerseyans tested positive for COVID-19, which claimed 917 lives.
Murphy’s prior restrictions ban any public gatherings, prohibit most travel, and close any “non-essential retail”—such as dine-in restaurants, bars and theaters, malls and casinos, barbershops and salons, entertainment and recreation.
All of this is part of the effort by state and federal officials to starve the virus of any person-to-person contact that might otherwise provide it with new hosts.