BELMAR — In a normal year, house parties are par for the course on the south side of Belmar, as little bungalow-style homes host dozens of college-age renters who come down to the borough for a good time.
In 2020, the COVID-19 health pandemic has put these rental houses under a microscope. On Saturday at one home on 18th Avenue, some 20 renters held their version of a Christmas-in-July party.
In the small house, social distancing was not possible and no one wore face masks. “We know the risks. We are staying cautious. We don’t invite anyone else into the house,” said Jenna Ferriero of Harrison, who said she has rented a house in Belmar with her close friends every year since high school.
Now out of college, they continued the tradition this year — 20 or so friends, people sleeping in the same house on 18th Avenue at night and partying during the day. The group has yet to have an issue with the police or neighbors, Ms. Ferriero said. Others talked about how, despite the virus, it was just a usual summer for them.
“We make it normal,” Ricky Dasilveira, also of Harrison, said.
House parties have been linked to recent flare-ups of COVID-19 throughout the state, Gov. Phil Murphy said during his press briefing on Monday, saying the news of several large house parties has been worrisome.
While discussing a house party in Middletown on Monday, the governor said that in the previous seven days, there were 65 new positive coronavirus results in Middletown, 52 of them in people between the ages of 15 and 19. The governor also said he heard reports of a house party in Jackson with “over 700 people.”
Lifeguards have also been hit hard, with more than 35 lifeguards on Long Beach Island testing positive for the virus.
“Any of us who just think we could put our feet up and relax and let this take its course is not paying attention,” the governor said. “Particularly, congregating inside in close proximity, poor ventilation, without face coverings, you are looking for trouble.”
On 18th Avenue, a block away from the beachfront, Councilwoman Pat Wann looks out from her porch at the homes near her and the crowds of young people she thinks are ignoring the very real dangers of the virus.
Ms. Wann, the council’s liaison to the Belmar Police Department and community policing initiative, has had a front row seat to what has been one of the busiest summers for the borough’s police department.
“It’s gotten worse. It’s just gotten worse,” Councilwoman Wann said, adding that the police did “clamp down” on some particularly unruly or “animal” houses in the area, issuing citations for violations of borough ordinances.
At every council meeting, the borough’s police department gives a report on the number of new summonses issued by the police department.
Last Tuesday, she said officers had written 236 summonses for borough code violations such as noise, alcohol in public, alcohol on the beach and smoking. The borough, she had said, was only 100 summonses away from last year’s pre-September total.
On July 20, the borough updated its list of properties that have received noise or disorderly conduct summonses this summer.
Of the 42 properties on the list, only two are north of 10th Avenue. The house with the most violations is 107 18th Ave., with six so far this summer. In all, according to the list, there have been a total of 80 summonses issued to these properties.
While police officers are handing out summonses at a faster rate than last year, the municipal court is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Pointing to a home near hers that has gotten “four or five tickets in the past week,” the councilwoman said the shutdown of the municipal court due to the virus has been an issue.
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