NEW JERSEY – Gov. Phil Murphy is enlisting the help of the National Guard and FEMA in an effort to combat the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 in New Jersey.
The 8,000 members of the state’s National Guard could be called upon to serve at some of the so-called “drive-through” testing centers, help reopen a shuttered hospital or convert a wing of a building into a temporary treatment area, Murphy said.
FEMA has identified New Jersey as a “priority state” and will set up and help staff coronavirus testing sites at the PNC Bank Art Center in Monmouth County and Bergen County Community College. FEMA’s involvement comes, Murphy said, after a conversation he had two days ago with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
The FEMA testing sites are expected to be up and running in the next several days.
These and other sweeping moves come on a day when the state reported its highest one-day new-case total, 80. That brings the total number of positive coronavirus COVID-19 cases in New Jersey to 178.
“Several of you have said over the course of today, ‘Boy, you’re really ramping things up,’” Murphy said. “I’m reminded of Sheriff Brody in ‘Jaws’ – I’m dating myself – played by Roy Scheider. When he finally had a good look at the shark, he turned around and said, ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat.’ And what you’re hearing from us today is a bigger boat. We have seen the enemy and we do not want to be dragged by the enemy.”
The state plans to close gyms, theaters, casinos and racetracks until further notice starting at 8 p.m. and limit bars and restaurants to pickup or delivery service were rolled out during a morning teleconference with Murphy, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.
They also jointly announced a ban of gatherings of more than 50.
So, supermarkets, medical offices and pharmacies will be allowed to stay open. Non-essential businesses where fewer people tend to congregate – barbershops, for instance – will be permitted to remain open until 8 p.m.
Murphy is urging that all non-emergency and non-essential travel cease between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. When asked by a reporter at Monday afternoon’s press conference if curfew could become a mandatory measure, he said, “We reserve the right to crank things if we need to.”
The state’s public, private and parochial schools will be closed starting Wednesday, although Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet said about 90% of the schools had already decided to shut their doors.
Murphy said he’s waiting until Wednesday before shuttering the schools so they could make final arrangements to address issues such as food security, remote learning and daycare.
Repollet said about 90% of the state’s 600-plus school districts have submitted an emergency plan to the state.
All colleges and universities were also ordered closed Monday, although schools such as Rutgers, Seton Hall and Princeton sent students home last week.
"These are extraordinary times, and educators throughout the state have been taking extraordinary measures to create plans for high-quality home instruction, ensure food security for children who depend on free and reduced lunch, and provide services for all special needs students,” Repollet said. “We understand that the closure can be a disruption for many parents, but we know nothing is more important than the safety of the 1.4 million children we serve.”
Judy Persichilli, the commissioner of the state’s health department, said it's not unexpected that the number of new positive coronavirus COVID-19 cases will continue to jump each day.
Among the 80 new cases she announced Monday, 32 are in Bergen County, nine in Essex, eight in Hudson, five each in Mercer and Middlesex, four each in Somerset and Union, three in Passaic, two each in Monmouth and Morris and one each in Burlington, Camden, Hunterdon and Ocean counties.
Whether it was the morning teleconference or the afternoon press conference, Murphy continued to stress the importance of social distancing - remaining six feet away from others.
“This is not time as business as usual,” Murphy said. “The amount of anecdotes we get – everything on one end from bars that you literally can’t get into over the weekend to not one single roll of toilet paper available in the state- we have to bring radically, immediately and dramatically that behavior on both ends to a more equitable, reasonable, rational reality.”