FAIR LAWN & GLEN ROCK, NJ - It's much easier to take people's freedoms away than to give them back.~ Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
While COVID-19 has determined public policy for the last two months, most people have been complying with little push back. But, as the weather improves, and we move into summer, people are bound to get ansy. Pent-up demand for a haircut, a massage or medical service, for example, will get people out.
But will people continue to comply with things like wearing a mask everywhere they go?
Fair Lawn Mayor Kurt Peluso said in his weekly COVID-19 announcement today there is not yet a decision on the opening of Memorial Pool, summer camps, concerts and local events, although the annual Memorial Day parade has been canceled.
Likewise, Glen Rock Mayor Kristine Morieko said the governing body had not yet made a decision on whether it would open the borough's pool, although all July 4 activities and celebrations have been canceled this year.
"When we do [make any decisions regarding events or recreational activities]," Peluso said, "they will be dependent on the actions of the State. Governor Murphy’s Executive order No. 108 requires municipalities to follow the State and we cannot steer away from that."
But will NJ residents avoid a neighborhood party where social distancing is bound to break down after an hour? And if they do not comply, should they, or can they, suffer a consequence?
Criminal defense attorney Ehsan Chowdhry said the deadly aspect of COVID-19 warranted Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order 107 [effective March 21], and those since, that have restricted social movement for state residents.
"The state has the absolute right to curtail people's behavior in the wake of the pandemic," Chowdhry said. "Lung cancer does not arbitrarily spread, for example. Another example, such as STDs, for that to spread, it requires certain behaviors. No economic interests can withstand massive loss of life."
Unlike other health epidemics, COVID-19 is still more of a mystery than health officials hoped for at this point in time.
Dr. Gian Varbaro, Chief Medical Officer of Bergen New Bridge Medical Center, said a "thoughtful" opening will help medical professionals track spikes in cases, especially if they are able to perform surveillance testing.
"If we see signs of a spike in a certain area, we can take measures that include education and increased testing," he said. "We can try to get an indication of how the virus is behaving so we can slow the spread."
In late April, some New Jersey residents gathered in Trenton to protest what they viewed as a prolonged shutdown.
Gov. Phil Murphy said “some misguided people” have been labeling democratically-elected officials “fascists” and “Nazis” while demonstrating against stay-at-home and other pandemic-related regulations.
The governor said it is “ignorant” and “repugnant” to call names, noting the April 28 protest in Trenton. Signs and some chants lableled Murphy as both a fascist and a nazi.
Since the first executive order was issued effective March 21, Glen Rock law enforcement has responded to or located more than 13 alleged violations for the various executive orders currently in effect, Glen Rock Police Chief Dean Ackermann said in late April.
"Three were found to be without merit, 10 resulted in a warning and or groups being dispersed," the chief said.
"In general, the level of compliance in Glen Rock has been very good," Ackermann said. "Nothing in life is 100%, but by and large most are complying with the spirit of the orders. Since this crisis began I have begun my day each morning with a conference call with other law enforcement executives statewide and can tell you first hand that we are doing much better than some other communities in the State. The public has certainly learned of these serious issues via the media! The “knuckleheads” as our Governor has so accurately referred to them as!"
With that said, Chief Ackermann explained what he and his department can and cannot do while maintaining order during the pandemic.
Officers cannot legally stop and detain persons for simply being out of their homes, he said. They must be engaging in otherwise prohibited conduct.
Just today, Governor Murphy signed an executive order loosening restrictions further, allowing several private recreation facilities to restart their businesses.
Otherwise, the “Stay at home” order as defined is all residents are to stay at home or at their place of residence unless they are leaving for the following reasons:
1) Obtaining goods or services from essential retail businesses;
2) Obtaining takeout or food beverages from restaurants;
3) Seeking medical attention, essential social services, or assistance from law enforcement;
4) Visiting family or close friends, caretakers, or romantic partners;
5) Reporting to or performing their job;
6) Walking, running, or engaging in outdoor activities with immediate family, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners;
7) Leaving because of a reasonable fear for health or safety; or
8) Leaving at the direction of law enforcement or other government agency.
Individuals who have to travel must practice social distancing.
Penalties are assessed by a court, not the police, Ackermann said.
“We’re cracking down on those who jeopardize public health and undermine public safety,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in several press releases since the pandemic executive orders were established. “We have zero patience for those who spit on cops, gouge prices, or try to exploit this pandemic for their personal gain.”
“Although law enforcement and medical professionals are on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19, we are ultimately winning the war because of the extraordinary resolve and fortitude of New Jersey citizens who are doing their part day in and day out, abiding by the executive orders and sacrificing for the greater good,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Those who choose to ignore the law and selfishly place others at risk will face swift law enforcement action.”