BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ After closing all Bernards Township parks as a way of "discouraging people from congregating," Bernards Townshp Mayor James Baldassare added on Sunday that the townshp will be "actively enforcing" the prohibition, while monitoring the growing number of COVID-19 at the township, county, and state level. [Updated]

Take needed steps 'seriously,' mayor tells residents

"In the meantime, we continue to need all of our residents to take this very seriously and practice the mitigating steps to flatten the curve," Baldassare added on Sunday.

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The first confirmed case of the Coronavirus was announced in Bernards Township just last Saturday, March 21. As of Sunday, the number had risen to 18, with a steep rise during the week, according to figures from Somerset County.

While Bernards Township municipal parks had remained open as a place to catch a breath of fresh air despite many other COVID-19 closures, Baldassare closed all park facilities as of Friday to stop their use as "congregating spaces...even [with] informal, unorganized sports practices that are occurring frequently."

Police presence to be at parks

Following the park closures, the presence of police will be increased at all parks regularly, Friday's notice said. "Residents are further encouraged to stay at home and practice the precautionary measures that have been put in place for everyone's safety," according to Friday announcement.

The mayor then said he had received increasingly reports that the parks were being used to socialize. The facilities that are now closed include, but are not limited to: playgrounds, athletic fields, as well as large open grassy areas, tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, picnic shelters, the roller rink, the dog park, park restrooms and park water fountains.  

Park trails and pathways still open

Park trails and pathways remain open. However, an online announcement added that all persons using the park trails or pathways are required to observe social distancing space of at least six feet. 

However, on Sunday, Baldassare said the township will continue to make "whatever appropriate adjustments are required in order to keep the virus from spreading here in Bernards Township."

All want return to normalcy but keeping distance 'no joke,' mayor says

"We all want to get back to some relative normalcy in our lives and the way to do it is by keeping safe as we're supposed to do in order to get rid of this sooner rather than later," Baldassare said on Sunday.

"Parents need to make sure they educate and inform themselves then their children, teenagers and young adults and drive home the importance and severity of what is going on. It's no joke," the mayor said.

On Friday, the mayor said in the announcement. "We have made every effort to continue to warn our residents of the dangers these activities present in further spreading the coronavirus.This is unacceptable. This now being the case, and a large number of our residents unwilling to comply with the necessary preventative measures, we are closing the parks to the public until further notice," stated the announcement posted on the Bernards Township website.

The township also added an addendum adding closure of the parks to an emergency declaration that had been approved at a virtual Township Committee held on Tuesday via Zoom that was televised, and could be viewed through the Bernards Township website.

As of Friday, Somerset County counted 16 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bernards Township.