Gov. Phil Murphy signed a stay-at-home order for most New Jersey residents, ordering the closure of all “non-essential” retail businesses and the cancellation of all public gatherings, which all went into effect at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 21.
The governor’s sweeping closures – the most restrictive so far to clamp down on spread of COVID-19 across the state – come in a bid to promote the kind of social distancing that proponents argue can starve the virus of any opportunity to spread to new hosts.
As of Sunday afternoon, the virus infected nearly 2,000 New Jersey residents and claimed 20 lives.
“While it’s no time to panic, it’s also no time for business as usual,” Murphy said Saturday at his daily coronavirus press conference, this time in Newark. “It is time to be smart, proactive, transparent, progressive.”
The closures are indefinite, and with the anticipated “peak” of the outbreak still weeks or months away, there could be no end in sight.
Residents can still leave their home to acquire medical attention, visit family, close friends, caretakers or romantic partners, under Executive Order 107, which in addition provides a broad range of “essential businesses” that can still stay open.
Under the order, outdoor activities, such as jogging or going for a walk, are still allowed, under the order, but as long as people maintain a six foot distance from each other.
“Any place people congregate is a place where coronavirus can be spread,” the governor said on Saturday.
Murphy added at a Sunday conference call that state and local police may go as far as making arrests to enforce the order – details will be forthcoming this week.
“There’s too many people not paying attention to this. We’ve about had it. We’re not happy,” Murphy said. “We banned any social gatherings in the state. We want people to stay home. We want all of these steps to be enforced aggressively.”
Under the order, “essential goods and services” include grocery stores, farmer’s markets and farm-to-consumer shops; pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries; gas stations; convenience stores; hardware and home improvement stores; banks; laundromats and dry-cleaning services; daycare centers and places that sell supplies for childcare; pet stores and veterinarians; printing and office supply shops; mail and delivery stores; and automobile mechanic shops.
The restriction also excludes construction and repair work; media; janitorial and custodial staff; medial and social services offices; as well as the trucking industry that state and federal officials argue is vital to ship in much-needed food and medical supplies.
“Manufacturing, industrial, logistics, ports, heavy construction, shipping, food production, food delivery, and other commercial operations” can still remain open, but should reduce the number of staff on the site to the bare minimum required to continue their operations, according to the state’s COVID-19 website.
“Do everything you can to achieve some amount of distancing and recognize some of this is challenging,” he said of industry often require close-quarters, such as construction work and grocery stores.
Liquor stores are also considered essential retail, under the order. Hotels can continue their operations, and public transit has been running on a limited schedule.
All other businesses are required to have employees work from home, and non-essential retailers must close. Businesses are required to provide telecommuting arrangements for their employees whenever possible.
Theaters, casinos, gyms, bars and malls are still closed, and restaurants can only provide take-out and delivery. “Personal care” businesses such as salons, tattoo parlors and barber shops must remain closed. K-12 schools are closed and all college courses have shifted to remote learning.
“We need you to just stay at home,” the governor added on Saturday. “We have to change our behaviors.”
Murphy also signed an additional order to override the patchwork of county and municipal restrictions that local governments have enacted in the previous weeks which may conflict with Executive Order 107.
“We cannot have a patchwork of regulations that change from one two or one county to another,” Murphy said on Saturday. “Folks’ hearts are in the right place. That’s not the question. But we have got to run this state with one set of rules.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:14 p.m. EST on March 21, 2020 to include information regarding the construction, manufacturing and trucking industries. It was updated at 2:42 p.m. EST to provide clarity regarding stipulations for essential and non-essential retailers. It was updated at 8:02 a.m. EST on March 23 to provide Sunday’s updated numbers on those currently infected with COVID-19.