NJ eyes ‘scalpel’ restrictions over statewide lockdowns for Lakewood outbreak

Daniel J. Munoz//October 5, 2020//

NJ eyes ‘scalpel’ restrictions over statewide lockdowns for Lakewood outbreak

Daniel J. Munoz//October 5, 2020//

Listen to this article

After New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would mandate the closures of schools and non-essential businesses in 20 of the city’s neighborhoods with new hotspots, Gov. Phil Murphy said his administration might look at a similar approach for the Ultra-Orthodox-majority Lakewood Township.

“A blunt statewide instrument looks less required as opposed to a scalpel” approach, Murphy said at a Monday afternoon COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton.

That could mean looking at individual school districts, the closure of local non-essential businesses in hotspot communities, or restrictions on indoor gatherings.

Murphy has been previously opposed to regional reopenings, contending that New Jerseyans would flock to those regions from other parts of the state with bigger COVID-19 spreads, though they were widely supported by business groups.

“It appears that deferring to industry experts and local officials for COVID-19 reopening decisions is the proper process, except when it comes to the reopening of our businesses,” reads a joint letter issued Monday from New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Bracken, and New Jersey Business & Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka.

Of the thousands of new COVID-19 cases announced over the past week, a sizable chunk of them came out of Lakewood, according to state health officials. The state logged another 522 cases on Monday, 119 of them coming out of Lakewood.

“We’re constantly in touch with local leadership… Whatever we would do, it would be done with the community and the county,” Murphy said, pointing to a Friday roundtable in Ocean County with several leaders of the Lakewood Jewish community, school officials, municipal leadership, and county health officials and law enforcement.

Murphy has assured that widespread shutdowns as those experienced in March and April would be highly unlikely. 

“I sure as heck hope we don’t and I do not anticipate it,” the governor said at a Facebook Live virtual town hall. “I will be profoundly saddened and I will say shocked if we have to shut the whole place down again. I just don’t see that.”

When the pandemic rammed into the state in early March, the governor responded with sweeping business closures, bans on public gatherings and a stay-at-home order, all as a means to slow the spread of the virus.

Those measures have shown many signs of working, having even garnered the praise of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert. But, it’s shattered the state economy in the process, leading to record-high unemployment and 1.6 million New Jerseyans out of work.

Restrictions have gradually been lifted: Indoor dining, theaters, casinos, theaters, salons and malls have reopened their doors, albeit with intense physical distancing, reduced capacity and sanitization requirements.

But now, the state is seeing upticks in the number of daily positive COVID-19 cases, with the vast majority of them coming out of Lakewood in Ocean County.

And state health officials are anxious about the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks during the colder fall and winter months, which state health officials worry could potentially coincide with flu season.

In March and April the state was caught off guard and its health care system put under strain, but Murphy said that now New Jersey has “so much more in the right place.”