Anyone who openly flouts Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home order or the mandated closure of any non-essential businesses and retail could face criminal prosecution, according to the state’s top law enforcement officer, as officials vie to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the state.
“The time for warning is over,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said at the governor’s daily press conference on Monday, this time at the Trenton War Memorial in the state capital.
The warning was particularly targeted at restaurants offering dine-in options for customers, or bars that continue serving liquor – both banned under orders issued by Murphy’s last week – as well as anyone looking to throw a large house party.
The governor also ordered “personal care” businesses, such as barbershops, tattoo parlors, and salons to close. And on Saturday, the sweeping closure of non-essential retailers, for companies to have most of their employees as possible work from home, and a stay-at-home order, which includs a ban on any public gatherings.
All of these decisions are a bid by the Murphy administration to promote the kind of “social distancing” that proponents argue can starve COVID-19 of any opportunity to spread to new hosts.
As of Monday afternoon, the virus infected 2,844 residents and claimed 27 lives.
Those who violate the orders could be charged with a disorderly persons offense, or a second, third or fourth-degree crime, Grewal said.
The governor’s order includes a host of exempt retail enterprises that can remain open, but very tight measures on why people are otherwise allowed to leave their homes.
They include going to work or to use an essential service – such as a grocery store –; for law enforcement, health care professionals, media and social service workers, as well as people visiting family, romantic partners or close friends.
“Manufacturing, industrial, logistics, ports, heavy construction, shipping, food production, food delivery, and other commercial operations” can remain open, all of which require at least some employees to remain on the worksite, according to the Murphy administration.
But house parties will simply not be tolerated, Grewal said.
“There are too many people not paying attention to this. We’ve about had it. We’re not happy,” Murphy said at a press phone conference on Sunday.
Grewal maintained that authorities – already stretched thin going into the COVID-19 outbreak – will only be able to focus on the most glaringly obvious violations: weddings, parties, religious gatherings, and businesses violating the order to remain closed.
But most social distancing will rely on “public cooperation”—a small family gathering postponed for a few weeks or simply done over social media, rather than in person, so as to avoid the risk of COVID-19’s spread.