Citing a declining number of COVID-19 cases, improved testing and lower positivity rates, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the city would begin reopening its economy on June 1.
“Phase One is about us getting prepared to open. We’re advancing, but it also gives us room to retreat if the numbers go back up,” Baraka said in a May 21 statement. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our residents.”
As part of the plan, businesses, restaurants, parks and other public spaces will display signs in varying colors, indicating the level of risk they present. The most risky areas will post red signs, yellow for more moderate risk and green for the lowest risk.
As an example, Baraka said basketball courts would be red areas because the nature of the game makes social distancing difficult. The point, he explained, is to “give people the information they need to have to make informed choices about the risks.”
The decision to begin reopening comes after data showed that COVID-19 cases are declining while Newark has increased the number of tests being administered by 100 percent, according to the city’s government. At the same time, the rate of positive test results has also been falling. Recommendations from the Newark Reopening and Recovery Strikeforce also played into the move.
Baraka outlined the approach he would take in deciding when and how quickly to reopen the city during a virtual town hall held on May 13.
Under the plan, recreation centers, parks and playgrounds will remain closed. Block parties and other events will be prohibited and religious services can only be held by teleconference.
The city will open information centers in each ward and its telephone information system will be expanded to include a COVID-19 hotline. A technology task force will be appointed to develop a strategy to provide citywide WiFi access along with hardware to permit remote learning.
In addition, City Hall will fashion an isolation and quarantine plan for residents unable to put one together on their own. Counseling will be available to deal with emotional difficulties and fears arising from mistrust of the health care system.
Businesses will be encouraged to develop plans to safeguard employees and the public. Licensing, approvals and permits will be expedited and perhaps waived.
The city’s Strikeforce is led by Amiri Baraka Jr., the mayor’s chief of staff, and Aisha Glover, the chief executive officer of the Newark Alliance.