Towns, cities can close businesses early to control COVID surges, Murphy says

Daniel J. Munoz//November 12, 2020//

Towns, cities can close businesses early to control COVID surges, Murphy says

Daniel J. Munoz//November 12, 2020//

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Gov. Phil Murphy said he will sign an order letting town, city and county governments enact 8 p.m. curfews on non-essential businesses to control local COVID-19 outbreaks, as the second wave surges across New Jersey.

His announcement comes the same day that a 10 p.m. curfew goes into effect for indoor dining, as well as a total ban on bar seating, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

In Newark, where the positivity rate has soared to 19%, Mayor Ras Baraka announced this week that residents and businesses in three of the zip codes hardest hit by the virus face a 9 p.m. weekday curfew and 10 p.m. weekend curfew.

On Thursday, New Jersey reported 3,517 new cases of COVID-19 – the third day in a row of more than 3,000 new cases – marking 10,472 new cases since Monday.

The state logged 1,827 COVID-19 patients – the highest since June 4, and a test positivity rate of over 12%, the highest since May when New Jersey was coasting down from the first wave.

“Municipalities and counties do not have to impose additional operating-hours restrictions if they do not wish to do so,” Murphy assured during his COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton on Thursday.

The governor cited cellphone data which he said traced 80% of new infections during the first wave back to indoor revenues such as restaurants and gyms.

Murphy said his order would serve as an “example of where we can be more surgical than blunt instrument” in terms of restrictions meant to curb the virus’s spread, as opposed to “one-size-fits-all” statewide restrictions.

“As we have been noting, our approach to this second wave is to act surgically within hot spot areas,” he added. “And that means giving local officials the ability to take actions to prevent localized hotspots from becoming COVID wildfires.”

Republican lawmakers panned the Monday announcement.

“Governor Murphy has said he planned to use a surgical approach. In surgery you use a scalpel, not an ax,” Sen. Mike Testa, R-1st District, whose district includes Atlantic City, said in a Monday statement. ‘Murphy is once again relying on a one-size-fits-all approach that is a destructive over-reaction. He needs to put down the axe before he does any more damage.”

Towns cannot close down “essential businesses,” Murphy cautioned.

Those include grocery stores and food stores, pharmacies, medical supply stores, gas stations, medical marijuana dispensaries, convenience stores, hardware and home improvement stores, laundromats and dry-cleaning services, banks and other financial institutions, liquor stores, pet stores, mechanic shops, childcare stores, mail and delivery stores, and printing and office supply shops.

Nor could local governments enact indoor gathering restrictions different from what the state enacted: 25% a room’s capacity or 25%, whichever is lower. New York and Connecticut both said they’re limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people, but Murphy would say on Thursday whether New Jersey would follow suit.