By ERIN ROLL
New Jersey residents are ordered to stay home unless it is necessary to leave the house, as Gov. Phil Murphy announced that all non-essential businesses will close beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 21, to battle the COVID-19 virus.
On Saturday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order requiring the state’s nine million residents to stay home, unless it is to go out to buy food, get medicine, or run other needed errands, or if they work in an essential business. Essential businesses include grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, medical supply stores, stores that sell supplies for children, pet stores, convenience stores, banks, office supply stores, laundromats and dry cleaners, mail and delivery stores, and auto shops. Restaurants may only offer food via take-out or delivery. Construction work may continue.
People in essential services include health care workers, members of the media, law enforcement, and people in federal agencies acting in their official capacity.
Businesses will be required to allow their employees to work from home where feasible, and all gatherings – including weddings, religious services, funerals, and private parties – will not be permitted.
“We can no longer maintain a sense of business as usual during this time of emergency,” Murphy said during a press briefing at Rutgers-Newark Saturday.
The state reported an increase of 442 positive cases Saturday, upping the statewide total to 1,327. Five new deaths were announced, bringing the state’s total to 16.
The five new deaths include a man in his 50s from Monmouth County; a man in his 80s from Essex County, a man in his 40s from Bergen County, a woman in her 70s from Morris County, and a man in his 90s from Bergen County.
Thirty-four new cases were announced in Essex County Saturday, bringing the county’s total to 107. Bergen County is still the site of the biggest COVID-19 outbreak, with 113 new cases announced Saturday and a total of 363.
State officials have said that the numbers of positive cases have been expected to rise as more people are tested.
Montclair had a total of seven confirmed cases as of Saturday, an increase of two from yesterday, according to township communications director Katya Wowk. No other details on the cases were available as of that time, she said.
Two people have died from complications related to COVID-19 in Montclair.
Gov. Murphy’s executive order supersedes any and all orders that may have been issued at the county or municipal level.
People may leave their houses to go for a walk or a run, and Murphy said that this was essential both for physical and mental health. But anyone who is out in public must practice social distancing, and maintain a six-foot distance from other people.
Murphy acknowledged that it was a difficult decision to require people to cancel celebrations of important life events.
“I don’t take these, we don’t take these measures lightly. Nor do we take them easily,” Murphy said.
Murphy also acknowledged that the COVID-19 outbreak was going to have far-reaching consequences for the state’s economy, especially for small businesses. He said New Jersey, along with New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, were appealing to national representatives for federal economic aid to be made available.
All of New Jersey’s public and private schools are closed. The state has also ordered the closing of all libraries, including libraries at colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning, until further notice.
The first testing facility opened at Bergen Community College in Paramus on Thursday. The facility has already seen long lines on its first two days of operation.
A second facility is in the process of being opened at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. State officials also said Friday that new testing sites, including one in Essex County, could be operational within a week.
The state is in the process, with the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard, of identifying available hospital beds, including re-opening hospitals that have closed, setting up field hospitals if needed, or re-opening closed hospital wings.
The state has set up a new COVID-19 information hub at covid19.nj.gov.