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wakeup call
COURTESY STATE OF NEW JERSEY Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli speaks at a Nov. 12 press briefing in Trenton.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

For the first time, local and county governments will be allowed to determine what times of day non-essential businesses, restaurants, recreation and entertainment venues can be open, under the terms of an executive order Gov. Phil Murphy signed today, Nov. 12, as the numbers of new COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

“I’ve been clear that our approach to the second wave is to act surgically within hotspot areas,” said Murphy. “Today’s action maintains overall consistency across the state while also empowering local elected officials with the discretion to address situations where restricting the operating hours of certain businesses in the evening will help stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Municipal and county governments will be allowed to have discretion on operating hours for non-essential businesses, including requiring non-essential businesses to close after 8 p.m., the order states. But bars will not allowed bar serve and restaurants must close by a state order time of 10 p.m.

And New Jersey officials pleaded for residents to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing, as new COVID-19 cases continue to climb, hospital patients reach numbers not seen since June and July, and the positivity rate hits 12 percent. 

Murphy said any local or county shutdown that goes against state rules will not be permitted. The reasoning for this, he said, was that authorities did not want a “patchwork” of enforcement rules, or the risk that people would drive to another town or jurisdiction to visit a business.

Local and county governments may not place any restrictions that would affect how restaurants arrange for the pickup or delivery of goods, or any restriction that interferes with a restaurant’s scope of operation.

During the first wave of the pandemic, all non-essential businesses were closed to in-store traffic, with only curbside pickup being allowed.

Additionally, starting today, restaurants, bars, clubs and lounges will be required to stop indoor dining between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

New Jersey’s daily case counts have exceeded 3,000 for the past three consecutive days. On Nov. 12, officials reported 3,517 new cases, up from 3,078 on Nov. 11, bringing the total number of cases to 266,986. 

Officials also reported an additional 18 deaths, down from 21 on Nov. 11, bringing the total to 14,694. 

Since Monday, Nov. 9, New Jersey has seen 10,472 new cases, Gov. Phil Murphy said. Today, Essex County had the most new cases of any county, with more than 400 new cases reported, Murphy said. 

The state’s overall positivity rate hit a new high of 12.02 percent for tests conducted on Nov. 8. The positivity rate has risen from 1.27 on Nov. 11 to 1.30 on Nov. 12. The northern counties had the highest positivity rate of 12.96 percent, followed by the central region with 11.99 percent and the southern region with 10.80 percent. 

“Folks, let these numbers sink in. COVID is not done with us, unfortunately, not by a long shot,” Murphy said. 

A weekly call with health commissioners in surrounding states experiencing rises illustrates how virulent the COVID-19 pandemic is, said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

“This is a wake-up call. We need your help,” Persichilli said. “If we are lax, if we continue on this trajectory, our state will return to the situation we were in last spring.”

She noted that recent gatherings, such as Halloween parties, have accounted for about 70 new cases, with 30 cases being traced to a Halloween party in Union County. 

The data would be more complete if more people cooperated with contact tracers, she said. 

One bright spot, however, is that New Jersey is in a better situation, compared to during the first wave in the spring, regarding testing capabilities and personal protective equipment supplies, Murphy said. Murphy added that he was reassured by discussions with pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer and Moderna, that are developing COVID-19 vaccines. 

Until the vaccine is available, he said, residents need to continue with all safety measures. 

Murphy had sharp words for people who politicized mask wearing, or said they didn’t want to wear masks because it was “uncomfortable” or “annoying. 

“You know what’s really uncomfortable and annoying? When you die,” Murphy said. 

Schools

Contrary to a report spread over Twitter on Nov. 11, Murphy said New Jersey was not going to do a statewide school shutdown. 

Christina Tan, the state epidemiologist, said school districts that made the switch to or from hybrid learning did so in consultation with their local health authorities, based on recent activity levels in the community. 

As of Nov. 12, 516 districts were in hybrid learning, while 162 were remote learning; 97 were doing all in-person learning and the remaining 36 districts were doing some combination of the three. 

Montclair’s schools will not reopen as anticipated on Nov. 16. It is the second time that the schools have delayed their reopening.

Earlier this week, Murphy announced that New Jersey will not allow interstate competitions for indoor youth sports, up to and including high school. Today, New Jersey has entered into an agreement with six other states prohibiting interstate youth hockey competitions. 

In August, 231,000 students were in need of devices or Internet access. That number has since declined to 40,000. But Murphy said every one of those students needs to be helped. 

Today’s numbers

Last night, hospitals reported 1,827 patients with COVID-19. That number has not been that high since June 4, Murphy said. The patient count included 360 people in critical care — a number not seen since June 12. Of those, 117 people were on ventilators — a number not seen since July 7.

By comparison, hospitals reported 1,803 patients on Nov. 10, including 334 critical care patients and 104 ventilators in use. 

Essex County health officials reported 422 new cases, up from 358 on Nov. 11, bringing the total to 28,850. One additional death was reported, compared to two on Nov. 11, bringing the total to 1,933.

Montclair health officials reported 14 new cases on Nov. 11, bringing the total to 769 cases. The number of deaths remains at 57. 

Essex County is offering testing at the following locations this week:

  • Friday, Nov. 13: Weeuquahic Park, Meeker Avenue entrance, Newark, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 17: Essex County Hendricks Field Golf Course, 220 Franklin Ave., Belleville, 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 18: Essex County College West Market Street Parking Deck, 303 University Ave., Newark, 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, Nov. 19: Seton Hall University, 400 South Orange Ave., South Orange, 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Friday, Nov. 20: Weeuquahic Park, Meeker Avenue entrance, Newark, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.