Some people heading to the Jersey Shore this Memorial Day weekend might be wondering: Does the reopening of beaches and boardwalks also mean you can stay with family and friends and a summer home, rental, or hotel despite the state’s ongoing coronavirus restrictions?
Technically, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday, there’s no strict statewide ban on doing so, even if you’re sharing the space with people you’ve not been isolating with during the pandemic.
But there are limitations. Officials said indoor gatherings remain limited to 10 people in the state and local municipalities have the right to ban rentals and hotel stays during the crisis.
“Some have and some haven’t,” Matt Platkin, the governor’s chief counsel, said during the state’s daily coronavirus briefing in Trenton
Murphy also strongly encouraged people to be careful about mingling indoors with those you haven’t been quarantining with.
“I would just say: Go into that with your eyes open,” the governor said. “I would keep your distance. That’s a personal opinion. I would not be sitting side by side tightly indoors with someone you’ve not been hanging around with yet.”
Murphy has allowed beaches, boardwalks, and lakes to reopen with certain guidelines as of Friday, even though New Jersey continues to deal with the second-most COVID-19 deaths and cases among American states.
Towns are required to enforce social-distancing restrictions, including reduced capacity. Eateries are limited to takeout and delivery. People are also strongly encouraged to wear face coverings, though not mandated. Arcade games, boardwalk rides, concerts, and fireworks are not allowed.
The move is one of several steps Murphy has taken in recent days to gradually lift his near-lockdown orders during the pandemic as the state’s daily number of deaths, cases, and hospitalizations continue to drop.
On Friday, the state increased the limit on outdoor gatherings from 10 to 25 people and allowed campgrounds to reopen immediately.
Some critics have worried that reopening the beaches could cause another surge of deaths and cases, especially if out-of-state visitors pour into the Shore. And some towns have expressed concern that they don’t have enough special police to enforce restrictions. Murphy acknowledged that Point Pleasant is one town worried about that.
Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the State Police, said law enforcement officials have been working with the state’s police training commission to make sure there are enough officers, in addition to State Police troopers.
“We think we’ll be well-positioned with staff throughout the summer to support the Shore towns,” Callahan said.
Murphy also said he doesn’t have a timeline yet for when arcades or boardwalk shops can reopen.
“If we continue to have another couple of good weeks here, my hope is we get to that, particularly if they’re outdoors,” he said.
Nonessential retail stores throughout the state are allowed to offer curbside pickup.
Murphy also said he will be at the Shore at some point this weekend, if the weather is nice (rain is expected on Friday and Saturday). He said he’ll either run on the boardwalk or stroll with his wide in the Seaside Heights and Seaside Park area.
“I don’t have an exact moment as to when,” he said.
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New Jersey, a densely populated state of 9 million residents, has reported at least 10,985 deaths attributed to COVID-19, with at least 152,719 cases, since the outbreak began March 4. Only New York has more deaths and cases among American states.
Officials reported 146 new deaths and 1,394 new positive tests in New Jersey on Friday.
Murphy said Thursday more businesses — such as salons and gyms — may be allowed to reopen with guidelines “in a matter of weeks.”
Still, with the economy suffering massive losses, some lawmakers, businesses, and residents have been pushing him to move more quickly, allowing more businesses to allow customers inside as long as there are safety precautions.
The state Republican Party announced Thursday it is suing Murphy to reopen small businesses, arguing he for “arbitrarily” declared which businesses are considered essential.
More than 1.1 million New Jersey residents have filed for unemployment since mid-March, though the number of claims has fallen in recent days. Many say they’ve been waiting for weeks to get paid and have struggled with the state’s busy phone and online systems.
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Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected].