NEWARK, NJ — Mayor Ras Baraka announced Thursday a temporary 30-day hold on all public gatherings in the city hours before Gov. Phil Murphy did the same across all New Jersey’s 21 counties, establishing a new level of urgency in the escalating coronavirus pandemic. 

For the state’s largest city and an epicenter of arts and culture, the move will bring the activities of major institutions to a grinding halt as calls for social distancing continue into the foreseeable future.

The commissioner of health is defining “non-essential public events” as groups of 250 or more,  including concerts, sporting events and parades. Currently, Newark has no positive cases of COVID-19 to date. 

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Baraka’s highly anticipated State of the City Address set for March 16 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center has been postponed, the city said. Senior center activities and programs are canceled until further notice in an effort to protect the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable to fatal outcomes if they contract COVID-19. 

“Our frontline efforts right now must be to aggressively mitigate the potential for exposure and further spread,” Murphy said in a statement. We are taking this step because social distancing works. It is our best chance to ‘flatten the curve’ and mitigate the chance of rapid spread, so we can respond to this public health emergency in an even more focused manner.”

John Schreiber, president and CEO of NJPAC, told TAPinto the performing arts center will be abiding by the mayor’s directive and the governor's recommendation related to public gatherings, suspending presentations at NJPAC and NJPAC education activities. 

He did not comment on how the suspension will affect one of the nation’s largest performing arts centers. 

The Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils, had not yet commented on whether it will shelve all its events, but the National Hockey League announced it will pause its 2019-20 season going forward. 

Baraka and Director of Health and Community Wellness Mark Wade are scheduled to address city residents via a virtual town hall on March 17 to discuss the potential health impact of the coronavirus on Newark, what the city is doing in terms of prevention efforts and measures residents can take to avoid contracting the illness. 

“The health and safety of the people of Newark is a top priority for me and my administration. As we closely monitor the developments and impact of the COVID-19, we also continue to update our plan and communicate with Newark and county hospitals/medical facilities, Newark Public Schools, and the business community to ensure that our city is well prepared,” Baraka said in a statement.