NEWARK, NJ — The first phase of Newark’s reopening and recovery plan commenced on Monday as officials unveiled what Phase 2 would look like on the steps of City Hall, where Mayor Ras Baraka also signed an order for outdoor gatherings. 

The city’s Reopening and Recovery Strikeforce announced June 1 plans a little more than a week ago, driving home its focus on ensuring the safety of its residents after losing more than 500 of them to COVID-19. Newark maintained its status as the epicenter of the virus in New Jersey throughout much of the pandemic. 

Phil Scott, director of Engineering for the city and head of the Strikeforce’s Data Collection and Analysis Committee, said the city’s infection rate now sits at 14%, down from 62% just six weeks before during the pandemic’s peak. Newark and Essex County continue to extend mobile and stationary testing sites that meet the needs of all its residents. 

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With the state slowly reopening, officials in Newark are making modifications to Gov. Phil Murphy’s orders where they see it necessary, according to Mayor Ras Baraka, who said in May that things in Newark “don’t work the same way” that they might in other places. 

His administration paid special mind to cookouts, signing an executive order specifying the new rules and guidelines in a post-quarantine summer. 

“You have to have a new condiment, and that condiment is called hand sanitizer," Baraka joked. 

Per the state’s restrictions, gatherings of up to 15 people are allowed, but Baraka said that if spaces are too small, that number should be reduced to no more than 10. Police and code enforcement will be dropping by gathering to hand out information and ensure guidelines are being followed. 

Masks must be worn at all times, except when eating. The city is now issuing an evening curfew of 9:30 p.m.

In Phase 2 of reopening, which begins June 15, education, daycare and recreation centers will reopen under CDC guidelines, but the city’s summer camps will remain closed. The city created a full calendar of alternative activities for youth and families, which Baraka said will be made available. 

Food service and retail will be able to operate at 25% seating capacity and max occupancy, respectively, and must take employee temperature and provide PPE. Retail should operate with 50% normal staffing at a given time. 

Fitness centers and salons can open as well permitting strict social distancing, disinfection and additional guidelines on June 22, but Baraka warned that no business can reopen without first obtaining permission via the city’s reopening application. 

“Just because the date says we’re opening, it is not a green light for you to open. It means you have to get permission to open from the city based on your application,” Baraka said. “If you open without adhering to the guidelines, the city will close your business permanently.” 

Allison Ladd, director of Economic and Housing Development, said the city has received about 200 applications and approved 25, but about 20% of those received are businesses that cannot yet be approved for reopening until June 15. 

Officials didn’t reveal any details for Phase 3, but Baraka said they expect a new normal for the city by July 13. However, he said, residents should not anticipate ever returning to the way life used to be prior to the virus. 

Normal is gone, normal will never return. We are never going back to normal, and we never should have been at the normal we were at,” Barka said. “The normal we had made it possible for us to have the most infections in the state, the most deaths in the state, it gave us poor access to health care and quality food and doctors and medicine.”