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Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at a press briefing in Trenton on April 29. COURTESY RICH HUNDLEY

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

State and Essex County parks will reopen on Saturday morning, May 2.

Today, April 29, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order allowing state and county parks and golf courses to re-open at sunrise on May 2, with county parks reopening at the discretion of county governments.

Essex County announced today that its parks and golf courses would open on Saturday for passive recreation in the parks and modified play at its golf courses. Face coverings and social distancing are both required, county officials said.

Murphy warned residents however, that the parks will close again if people do not adhere to social distancing protocols.

“We cannot have everyone rush out to golf courses,” Murphy said, referring to the need for park-goers and golfers to be cautious about social distancing and personal safety.

Residents are also urged to visit a park close to their home, and park visitors should not cross state lines to visit.

Unlike the county’s requirement, state park goers are not required to wear masks. However, Murphy strongly recommended face coverings while in the parks. He also advised that the recommendation could become a mandate if needed.

Parking lots will be limited to 50 percent capacity. Picnics, organized events and team sports are prohibited. Playgrounds, pavilions, restrooms and visitor’s centers will remain closed.

The status of New Jersey’s beaches is still up in the air. Murphy said state officials would assess the reopening of the parks, and then make a decision on beach opening from there.

While residents have been under a lock down but needed a place to take in fresh air with the warmer weather, the governor was criticized for ordering the closure of parks and golf courses starting in March.

Murphy said the decision to close the parks was not made on a whim. He also emphasized that the decision to reopen the parks was based on facts and science, as well as mental health needs, even if the decision may have seemed abrupt to the general public.

Montclair officials did not respond to an inquiry concerning the reopening of town parks closed since March 16. The three county parks within its borders are Glenfield Park, Anderson Park, and Presby Iris Gardens. County-owned Eagle Rock Reservation is also on the township’s western border with West Orange and Verona.

Municipal parks are the responsibility of town governments.

“I’m begging you, please, be responsible,” Murphy said. “Enjoy some fresh air, but please stay away from each other.” 

TODAY’S NUMBERS

The state reported 329 additional deaths, compared to the 402 reported on Tuesday, bringing the state death toll to 6,770.

The state death toll now exceeds the number of people from New Jersey who died during World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, both Gulf Wars, the war in Iraq, Superstorm Sandy and 9/11 combined, Murphy said.

“To think that today, we’ve added a number greater than all of those takes your breath away,” he said.

As of Wednesday, the state was reporting 2,481 new positive cases, bringing the statewide total to 116,264. The day before, on Tuesday, the state reported 2,887 new positive cases.

As of 10 p.m. Tuesday, 6,289 people, down from the 6,476 reported on Monday, were in the hospital due to COVID-19, with 1,811 people in critical care. Seventy-three percent of the critical care patients were on ventilators, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.The state COVID-19 dashboard reported 613 discharges.

The state is now in a position to be able to return some ventilators that were on loan from the federal stockpile, and some ventilators that California donated to New Jersey. In addition, New Jersey is sending 50 ventilators to Massachusetts, since that state is now experiencing a surge in cases.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Montclair was reporting 356 cases, up from 353 on Tuesday. The number of deaths remained at 41.

Essex County was reporting 13,561 cases as of 9 a.m. Wednesday, up from 13,296 the day before. The county also reported 1,143 deaths, up from 1,096 on Tuesday. 

MONTCLAIRITES JOIN THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

On Tuesday, the governor had announced the formation of the Governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission, a 21-member panel of experts from different fields to advise the state on reopening New Jersey following the pandemic.

The commission includes two Montclair residents: Jeh Johnson, a former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, and Evelyn Colbert, a founding board member of Montclair Film.

None of the commission members will be paid for their work, Murphy said.

Murphy said Colbert was chosen because New Jersey needs to be a leader in not only the sciences once the outbreak ends, but also a leader in the arts, pointing to Colbert’s work in the arts.