Murphy: Towns, counties may impose 8 p.m. business closings

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TRENTON — Amid a spike of COVID-19 infections, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday that he will sign an executive order giving municipalities and counties the option to set an 8 p.m. closing time for nonessential businesses.

“Our surgical approach empowers local officials to take actions to prevent localized hot spots from becoming COVID wildfires,” he said, adding that Municipalities and counties do not have to impose additional operating-hour restrictions if they do not wish to do so.” 

The governor cited a study based on cell phone data that showed indoor venues accounted for about 80 percent of infections during the first wave of the pandemic in early spring.

Essential businesses that were allowed to remain open during the spring lockdown included supermarkets, taverns, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, banks, hardware stores and laundromats.  

The new order comes the same day that new state restrictions go into effect requiring restaurants and bars to close indoor seating at 10 p.m. and banning interstate, indoor youth sports events.

A reporter said a lot of restaurant  owners believe they are being unfairly punished for “bad apples,” and the manager of the Manasquan tavern [Leggett’s] that had an outbreak mentioned at Monday’s press conference has said he believes the bar was unfairly cited as justification for the new restrictions. He asked if the governor agreed with those opinions.

“There are bad actors and I previewed the fact that enforcing compliance is going to be an area of high focus. But it’s also just a general reality,” Gov. Murphy responded, noting that New York,  San Francisco, Maryland and Connecticut also are limiting late-night indoor seating at bars and restaurants.

“The fact of the matter is there is evidence all over the place that restaurants, as they are open later at night, habits change, they morph into something other than a restaurant. When was the last time you had a dinner reservation at 10 o’clock?” Gov. Murphy asked. 

The new limits imposed this week are in response to worsening health data: On Wednesday, 3,517 new positive cases were reported in New Jersey; that compares to a daily average of 420 in September.

“We’ve had 10,472 new cases just since Monday,” the governor said, and 1,827 patients were hospitalized, “a number not seen since June.” 

The positivity rate in testing has grown to 12.02 percent, and 18 new deaths were reported Wednesday.

Gov. Murphy said New Jersey is in a better place now to tamp down the second virus surge now than it was in March and April.

“What we are facing today is different from what we faced in the spring. We are prepared to fight this second wave. 

“Over the past several months, we’ve built a sizable PPE stockpile, enhanced our testing capabilities, improved our ability to move resources at a moment’s notice and given local governments the ability to take surgical action. 

“We have to get back to the mindset that saw us crush the curve throughout the spring. We cannot be successful unless every New Jerseyan recognizes their responsibility in this fight. Social distance. Wear a mask. Wash your hands,” he said.

The governor also repeated his appeal to limit Thanksgiving gatherings.

“This is not the year for a large family gathering, with loved ones coming in from out-of-state, or for you to travel out-of-state. We strongly urge you to have a smaller gathering with just your immediate family bubble,” he said.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether New Jersey would follow New York’s lead and in restricting indoor household gatherings to 10 people, if numbers continue to climb, Gov. Murphy said: “All options are on the table.”

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said: “Gatherings of individuals continue to spread this virus. We know this virus is extremely virulent and it is spread by individuals who are not practicing our public health measures. We also know this virus enjoys cold weather … As the governor shared, since Monday, we have reported more than 10,000 new cases. This is a wake-up call. We need your help,” in following safety protocols such as wearing masks and social distancing, she said.

“If we are lax, if we continue on this trajectory our state will return to the situation we were in last spring,” she said.

A single Halloween party in Union County led to 30 cases, and youth hockey recently led to 70 other positive cases, Ms. Persichilli noted.

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