Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday signed an executive order requiring the state’s 9 million residents to “quite simply, stay at home,” canceling all gatherings, weddings, parties, etc., and closing additional businesses effective 9 p.m. Saturday.
“This decision is not an easy one, and it pains me that important life moments will be not celebrated in the way we are accustomed to,” Murphy said. “I know this will be disappointing to many residents, but my singular goal, our singular goal, not to mention, frankly, my job, is to make sure we get through this emergency so that you can safely gather with family and friends later and enjoy many more birthdays and weddings in the years to come.”
He said the previous 8 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew is “now 24 hours.”
“We don’t want you out (on the roads),” he said. “Period.”
Col. Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the State Police, said the penalty for being out on nonessential business will be “predominantly a disorderly conduct charge.”
Residents are allowed to go outside for exercise but encouraged to maintain their distance from others.
But Murphy urged second-home owners to remain at their primary residences.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for a party on the beach,” he said.
Before his live briefing Saturday, Murphy mandated the indefinite closing of municipal, county and state public libraries. The closing extends to libraries and computer labs at public and private higher education institutions.
“I know libraries are a critical part of the fabric of our communities,” Murphy tweeted, “but we must slow the spread of #COVID19.”
A registered sex offender from Oklahoma was arrested Wednesday after he traveled to Atlantic City to sexually assault two girls, the state Attorney General’s Office said Friday.
Murphy announced five more deaths due to COVID-19 in the state, raising the total to 16. The state’s total number of cases broke four digits to 1,327.
Locally, New Jersey is reporting four cases in Atlantic County, two in Cape May County and one in Cumberland County. Salem County is the lone county to report none.
He also announced that since 8 a.m. Friday, more than 1,000 people had been tested.
“The increase in the positive test results is completely expected,” Murphy said. “The numbers will continue to grow significantly. There’s just no other way around that.”
VINELAND — Coworkers of two Inspira Medical Center Vineland workers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus were told Wednesday they can return to work without quarantine or testing if they do not show symptoms of COVID-19 infection, a hospital spokeswoman confirmed Friday.
MORE BUSINESSES CLOSE
As of 9 p.m. Saturday, all nonessential businesses were to close. Exemptions were made for grocery stores, farmer’s markets and farms that sell directly to customers, and other food stores; pharmacies and medical marijuana dispensaries; medical supply stores; gas stations; convenience stores; ancillary stores within health care facilities; hardware and home improvement stores; banks and other financial institutions; laundromats and dry-cleaning services; stores that principally sell supplies for children under 5; pet stores; liquor stores; car dealerships, but only for auto maintenance and repair, and auto mechanics; printing and office supply shops; and mail and delivery stores.
All businesses should guide employees to work from home if they can, per Murphy.
Further social distancing measures are likely over the weekend to combat COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday, the same day the state’s first federally run drive-through testing center reached capacity after being opened only hours.
If a business cannot operate with employees working from home, it is encouraged to give each employee a letter indicating the employee works in an industry permitted to continue operations.
Construction projects underway are allowed to continue.
In a statement, Michele Siekerka, president and CEO of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, backed the governor’s actions.
“We are asking our business community to take a deep breath before reacting, as we all take the time to review the language and practical application of the governor’s executive order,” Siekerka said.
ATLANTIC CITY — Gardner’s Basin, the sometimes neglected, occasionally threatened and enduringly low-key-charming Back Bay collection of restaurants, commercial fishing boats, dolphin tours, outdoor concerts, aquarium and the best breakfast in Atlantic City, is getting a facelift.
NEW CASE IN CAPE
Cape May County on Saturday announced a third positive case of COVID-19.
The new case is a 62-year-old county woman who is at home recovering, the county said in a news release.
The county previously reported two other cases: a 30-year-old man visiting from New York City, not counted toward the state Health Department’s tally for the county, and a 32-year-old man who is isolated at home and recovering.
MEANWHILE, ON THE BOARDWALK
Ocean City got a grim preview Saturday morning of what was on the horizon.
Though a slight chill with some rain likely kept some people indoors, the normally packed Boardwalk was dominated by runners and cyclists. Nearly every shop was closed, and walkers approached for questioning made sure to keep their distance.
Michael McCloskey, of Egg Harbor Township, was walking the Boardwalk to stay active since he can’t go to Somers Point’s Snap Fitness. While he’s concerned about how his daily life could change with the state increasing restrictions, he thinks it’s necessary.
“Until it’s over, sometimes you gotta bite the bullet to get it over,” said McCloskey, 58.
A plumbing contractor, McCloskey can continue working regardless of any restrictions in place.
Others, like Mimi Yim at Steel’s Fudge, may not be so lucky. Steel’s was one of the only shops open on the Boardwalk on Saturday morning. To the left and right of Steel’s were nothing but closed doors and COVID-19 signs.
If the state’s stay-home orders last any longer than a few weeks, Yim feels her livelihood could be in danger.
“A few months, I’m going to be worried about,” said Yim, 67. “But a few weeks, I probably shouldn’t be so worried about.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
South Jersey is no easy place for a meteorologist.
The four seasons, coastal storms and finding the rain-snow line has always made it one of the toughest places to forecast in the country.
The National Weather Service has remained a strong community partner in South Jersey on its 150th anniversary. And with a massive array of equipment, computing power and knowledge in its meteorologists’ hands, they continue to keep up with the increasing demand for higher quality and faster lead time for weather information.
“They’re our right arm when it comes to weather emergencies. We believe in the NWS, and that’s the bible,” said Martin Pagliughi, coordinator for the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management.
The National Weather Service has maintained an active presence in southeastern New Jersey since President Ulysses S. Grant signed a resolution forming the weather observation and forecasting wing of the United States Army Signal Service on Feb. 9, 1870. Vague forecasts, out to 24 hours, were put out to protect mariners and military members, albeit with mixed results at first.
Being near the coast was central to these operations. An NWS office has had an active presence in southeastern New Jersey through 1995, and being a close confidant of the community was a pillar for success.
“It became a family atmosphere, much the same way down here now” said Jim Eberwine, retired meteorologist for the NWS and Absecon resident whose 38 years with the weather service was virtually all spent covering South Jersey, including being in “Building 301” at Atlantic City International Airport from 1977 to 1988 and at the NWS Mount Holly office from 1993 until his retirement in 2010.
It’s not just the countless emergency managers who walked through the doors that made it so, but the community involvement.
Jason Franklin, the current meteorologist in charge at the NWS Mount Holly office, “pretty much” started his career at the airport office in 1993 until its closing in 1995. He returned to New Jersey in 2018 as the top dog after the retirement of Gary Szatkowski.
“We’d go out and do events, like the boat show in Atlantic City. ... We did have a lot of connections with the surf community, coastal flooding was a big deal. For the areas that inundated, we worked a lot with the emergency managers at all levels,” Franklin said.
For Martin Ross, retired meteorologist in charge of the NWS office at what is now the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township from 1972 to 1984, that meant alerting people as early as possible about coastal flooding.
“Coastal flood warnings were in use when I started in 1960. However, by 1977, I suggested ... that the use of the term ‘coastal flood watch’ be authorized. Obviously, it would highlight an upcoming storm event rather than be lost in the body of the forecast. Its use was approved by NWS in 1978,” Ross said.
Eberwine and Dean Iovino, lead meteorologist at the NWS Mount Holly, mapped out what streets could see coastal flooding, especially in nuisance events, from the late 1980s to 1994. While coastal flood hazards have been done since the office at Atlantic City International opened, it was the duo’s work when residents could peg a tide forecast to flooding on their street. It became known as “Operation Crabcake,” after the meal they shared on the last night of their journey.
“I literally walked the beaches from Sandy Hook to Cape May (127 miles) up the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay and the Delaware side of Delaware Bay, the 21 miles of the Delaware coast, and the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River up to Trenton. I videotaped the hot spots for flooding,” Eberwine said.
Not only has that protected the public, it also has tightened the bond between emergency management and the NWS.
“When I went to some of these tidal places and we looked at these different things, when the OEMs would call up, they’d be dumbfounded that I knew all of their roads. ... People never saw anyone from the weather service,” Eberwine said.
Today, the program that greatest exemplifies the relationship among South Jersey residents, emergency management and the NWS is StormReady. Beginning in 2000, the program prepares communities for their increasing vulnerability to extreme weather. Since 1910, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Extremes Index in the Northeast has risen. The increase is especially noticeable since 2000.
“When a community is established StormReady, we have established that the community has the communication and infrastructure to get warnings and get them to the people who need to get it and those people know what to do with it,” said Joe Miketta, warning coordination meteorologist for the NWS in Mount Holly.
Scott Morgan, emergency management coordinator for Upper Township, says StormReady has helped residents in special flood zones save 25% on their flood insurance premiums through the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System.
And typically in May, Morgan and thousands of others in the emergency management field attend the New Jersey Emergency Preparedness Conference in Atlantic City, due to the work of Eberwine and the NWS Mount Holly.
“Over the years, it grew from one day, one classroom at the Tropicana for 200 to 250 people. Now, it’s five days,” Eberwine said.
Since 1999, the accuracy and rate of forecasting hurricanes has grown exponentially. A hurricane forecast put out by the National Hurricane Center that year was as accurate three days out as it was five days out in 2018.
“Back in 1991, we’re all hunkering down in the Avalon Emergency Operations Center and paying attention for Hurricane Bob 2-3 days out. ... The storm actually went by us for 5-6 hours before we even knew it,” Pagliughi said.
Tornado forecasting has made gains in South Jersey, too. According to Miketta, stronger storms, above an Enhanced Fujita scale 2 of 5, have a lead time of 10 to 15 minutes, on average. Weaker tornadoes, an EF-0 or EF-2, now have a 1-3 minute lead time. This has provided people time to seek sturdy shelter and prevent numerous deaths and injuries.
“What I would like to see the office move into is get into really high detail with hazardous weather. Our clients are upping the ante on the level of detail and information needed,” Franklin said.
From the person wondering if the next tropical system will put water on their block, to the farmer looking for a seasonal outlook on drought, rapidly expanding technology and effective communication with those who serve their communities will be key.
“In the next 30 years, it’s going to be amazing what we’re going to be able to do,” Franklin said.
Jordan Vazquez unwittingly became a video star last week.
With his mother, Erika’s help, 7-year-old Jordan has starred in daily videos demonstrating exercises for the members of the Egg Harbor Township High School girls track and field team to do at home.
Vazquez is the Eagles coach, and she posts the videos on Google classroom.
“The girls are commenting on them,” Vazquez said. “It’s been brightening up their day. My son is having a blast.”
COVID-19 has put the high school spring sports season on hold as the state’s schools have closed and switched to online learning. The season was scheduled to begin Wednesday for boys and girls lacrosse and April 1 for all other sports.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference announced Saturday that more people have tested positive for COVID-19 who were on or near the floor during Horizon League and MAAC basketball games, including during the tournament this month in Atlantic City.
High school athletes understand their sacrifice will hopefully help minimize the virus’ impact.
“You can’t be selfish in this type of scenario,” Ocean City standout sophomore pitcher Tom Finnegan said. “You hope everyone recovers from it and no one else gets sick.”
But that doesn’t make seeing their spring season slip away any easier for athletes. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association released a statement last week saying it would try to save the spring season. But while schools are closed, the NJSIAA has banned coaches from having practices with athletes or the athletes themselves holding informal workouts known as “captain’s practices.”
Live sports have gone dark in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean racing fans are lacking consumable content.
“It’s weird,” Finnegan said. “Usually this time of the year the weather begins to switch. It gets darker later. You want to go out there and play some games with your boys and friends. We’re looking forward to when this all kind of settles down.”
High school athletes have been left to their own means to stay in shape. Vazquez designed daily exercises the EHT girls could do without leaving their house. The exercises include stretching, running in place and core work.
Some schools have taken to social media to challenge other schools to do workouts at home.
“I didn’t want to push them to go outside,” Vazquez said. “Hopefully, it’s helping. If anything, it’s taking their minds off the craziness.”
Finnegan, who has verbally committed to Vanderbilt University and was expected to be one of the state’s top pitchers this spring, works out with his father, Tom, and 12-year-old brother, Luke.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver finds himself almost constantly looking at financial numbers and projections. And like the rest of a world that is dealing with the seismic effects of the new coronavirus pandemic, he still isn’t sure how bad things will get.
Finnegan has mostly done some long tossing and thrown the occasional 30-pitch bullpen session.
“I’m just staying loose,” he said, “and getting my arm back into shape. No gyms are open. You have to make the best out of the situation.”
Kenny Levari, a St. Augustine Prep senior and one of the state’s top baseball players, has worked out with brother Marco, a St. Augustine freshman. The two hit ground balls to each other and take turns pitching batting practice and throwing bullpen sessions.
“I’m older and stronger,” Kenny said, “but I like to challenge him and bring the best out of him.”
The virus is causing some athletes to miss experiences and opportunities they will never have a second chance at.
Mainland Regional basketball standout Kylee Watson became the first Press-area girl ever selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American game, which features the nation’s top 24 players.
The game, scheduled for April 1 in Houston, was canceled.
“I was definitely upset,” Watson said. “It’s something I’ve worked for since I first picked up a basketball. But they did what was right to keep everyone healthy and safe. Obviously, I understand that. It’s an honor to be named, but the experience (of playing in the game) would have been amazing, too.”
Watson, who is scheduled to leave in July to continue her basketball career at the University of Oregon, is working out with her dad, Cedar Creek football coach Tim Watson, to get ready for college.
“It’s helpful having high school coaches as parents,” Kylee said. “It comes in handy sometimes.”
A canceled spring season will also impact the future of high school seniors. Some had hoped to catch the eye of college recruiters in the coming months. Others have even bigger opportunities in the balance.
Levari could be selected in the Major League First Year Player Draft, which is scheduled for June.
“I like to control what I can control,” Levari said. “From what I did in the summer and the fall, I feel like I’m in a pretty good position (when it comes to the draft). But it would be nice to get out there this spring and refresh their memory.”