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New Jersey reported 1,216 new coronavirus cases Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 142,704.
Another 244 people died of complications from COVID-19. The state has now lost 9,946 residents to the pandemic.
Get out those beach umbrellas!
Gov. Phil Murphy declared New Jersey’s beaches and lakefronts “open” for Memorial Day weekend, although visitors will have to abide by a lengthy list of restrictions.
Starting May 22 — the Friday before Memorial Day — all towns can welcome beachgoers as long as they limit numbers so groups can maintain a six-foot distance from others.
“This could be done through methods including limiting the number of available beach tags for any given day, or through utilizing technology such as with a geographic spatial analysis,” Murphy said, although he left questions of implementation to individual municipalities.
He also said that social distancing will be enforced “except for family groups, household members, caretakers or couples.”
Some Shore towns have banned access to their beaches and boardwalks during the coronavirus pandemic, while others have taken a less restrictive approach.
Either way, Murphy’s announcement signals to would-be visitors that they need not skip their Shore vacations this year, even if some quintessential businesses will remain closed.
Amusement parks, arcades, playgrounds and visitors centers are off-limits, Murphy said, as are organized sports, summer camps and events like concerts or fireworks that would cause people to gather.
Restaurants and bars remain open for take-out and delivery only, as they have been since mid-March.
However, shower pavilions, changing areas and restrooms can open, Murphy said. The state will also begin to reopen restrooms facilities at state parks after authorities reported an “inordinate amount” of urine and feces left behind last weekend.
Murphy also asked visitors to wear masks.
“While we are not specifically ordering it, we highly recommend that you wear a face covering, particularly when social distancing is difficult to maintain, such as waiting in line for a slice of boardwalk pizza,” he said.
Murphy said the decision to open beaches was made in coordination with the governors of Delaware, New York and Connecticut. Delaware Gov. John Carney made a similar announcement Thursday.
What will enforcement look like?
Len Desiderio, a Cape May County freeholder and mayor of Sea Isle City, said his town prefers a light touch when enforcing social distancing on the beach.
He said he’s counting on people voluntarily abiding by the rules, and that “goodwill ambassadors” and police officers on quads will be out on the sand to give reminders.
If that fails, though, he said people can be removed from the beach and ticketed. That echoed Murphy’s warning Thursday that people who are noncompliant “will be dealt with.”
“How the social distancing will be enforced is going to depend on the community that you’re in,” Murphy said.
Otherwise, Desiderio called the beach reopenings “fabulous news” and praised Murphy for allowing non-essential businesses to resume operations with curbside pick-up starting Monday.
“I can’t tell you how happy we are in Cape May County and I’m sure across the 127 miles of beaches in New Jersey,” Desiderio said. “They are now waving to me with five fingers.”
Unemployment claims subsiding but still historically high
Another 70,000 New Jerseyans filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total since mid-March to nearly 1.1 million, according to updated state figures.
Although still much higher than at the worst points of Superstorm Sandy (46,000 weekly claims) or the Great Recession (25,000), the number of new claims is down from previous weeks.
That reflects the trend at the national level, where more than 36 million Americans have applied for benefits. Some states, including New Jersey, are now rolling back some restrictions imposed on businesses earlier in the pandemic.
New Jersey has now paid out some $2.7 billion in benefits through a combination of state and federal funds.
The state Department of Labor said Thursday about 139,000 gig workers, independent contractors and other people would be made newly eligible for benefits this week.
The department has also put out guidance on how to certify for benefits on a weekly basis so no payments are delayed.