NEWARK, NJ — Mayor Ras Baraka announced during Thursday’s daily coronavirus update that the city would begin encouraging businesses to shut down at the start of every week until May 11 in a move he’s calling “Be Still Mondays.”
Newark is still leading the state with 2,341 cases and 106 deaths, leading city officials to get creative in the measures the city enforces to flatten the curve.
So far, Newark has taken to issuing summonses, partnering with nearby municipalities to limit travel, requiring businesses to sanitize their storefronts daily and mandating all residents to wear face masks in public and in places of business.
As the death toll continues to climb and the nation’s preliminary numbers begin to show that black and brown communities are being hit harder by the coronavirus due to the legacy of structural racism, there’s a new sense of urgency in Newark, a majority black and Latino city, to take action and flatten the curve.
“We’re going to test this out on Mondays, all of us stay still. Be still!” Baraka said. “We’re not signing an executive order, we’re asking all these businesses to shut down. Everybody — Prudential, Verizon, everybody, if you’re not essential.”
Legally, Newark cannot mandate essential businesses to shut down outside the scope of the state’s executive order 107, signed on March 21. Those who participate in “Be Still Mondays” would be doing so voluntarily. A letter was issued from city Business Administrator Eric Pennington on Thursday.
"For the next month, we ask that every Monday businesses in Newark close their door: offices, manufacturers, warehouses, retail (including supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, bodegas and convenience stores), and government entities, to name a few," the letter reads.
But according to some local business owners, the benefit of such an experiment could be counterintuitive. John Ward, manager and marketing lead at CoolVines in downtown Newark, said the move has the potential to lead to store crowding as people might feel the need to stock up on supplies before or after the shutdown event.
Factors such as shipping and inventory across essential industries during this time also complicate Baraka’s latest initiative.
“Monday is ordering day in our industry, everything has to be calculated and submitted, so we can get our inventory in on Tuesday and Wednesday each week,” Ward said. “ If we waited until Tuesday to open up and place orders we'd be behind stores in other cities, we might miss on inventory or get shipping delays. Not the end of the world obviously, and again we will do whatever we need to do to follow orders."
Ward said the city had not yet contacted his store regarding the Monday shut down period prior to the announcement. A representative for ShopRite on Springfield Ave. said the store would be complying with the city's request and closing every Monday until May 11.
Ashraf Latif, owner and CEO of Sheefa Pharmacy in East Orange, said the call is a tough one for Newark to have to make given its considerable responsibility to lower its infection rate. He said he understands the need for the city to resolve the issue, and although pharmacies are vital for COVID-19 patients coming out of the city's hospitals, there are enough in the surrounding area to support the demand.
"Even though it's a tough decision, it's manageable," he said. "It's an unprecedented time, sometimes you have to do things that are unprecedented."