Coronavirus update: N.J. closes state and county parks; Gloucester County gets testing site

Gov. Phil Murphy left it up to municipalities whether to keep their parks open.

Medical personnel put on protective cloting at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, March 24, 2020. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)

Medical personnel put on protective cloting at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, March 24, 2020. (Jeff Rhode/Holy Name Medical Center)

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Updated: 3:15 p.m.

New Jersey officials reported another 3,361 cases of coronavirus cases on Tuesday, with the state’s total now at 44,416.

Gov. Phil Murphy also said another 232 people had died, bringing the state’s total number of fatalities to 1,232.

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Murphy closes state and county parks

Murphy has ordered the closure of all state and county parks as of 8 p.m. Tuesday, although he left it up to municipalities whether to keep theirs open.

“I don’t do this lightly and I don’t do it with any joy,” the governor said Tuesday at his daily coronavirus news briefing. “We have seen far too many instances where people are gathering in groups in our parks erroneously thinking since they’re outside, social distancing doesn’t matter. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Murphy said he gets that staying at home is “hard” and that people need fresh air. But he urged people to take a walk or bike ride close to home — and specifically asked that residents not drive to neighboring towns in search of parks that are still open.

“We need 100% compliance to flatten the curve, and unfortunately that now requires us to take this step,” he said.

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The park closures mark the latest escalation in Murphy’s efforts to enforce social distancing and avert disaster at the state’s hospitals, which are already under strain from the rapid uptick in coronavirus cases.

Some municipalities have already taken steps to limit access to outdoor spaces. Several shore towns, for example, have closed their beaches and boardwalks to prevent people from congregating there.

N.J. likely to move primary to July 7: reports

New Jersey is likely to move its primary back a month to July 7, giving officials more time to make special arrangements in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, POLITICO New Jersey and New Jersey Globe reported Tuesday.

The plan for now is to allow in-person voting, the Globe reported. New Jersey’s primary is currently slated for June 2, although Murphy telegraphed last week that a delay was likely.

“I’ll be stunned if we stay June 2,” he said Friday.

Pressure to adhere to that timeline was reduced after the Democratic National Committee delayed its nominating convention by a month, but Murphy still faces the difficult decision of whether to move to an entirely vote-by-mail election or allow in-person voting despite strict social distancing mandates.

A coalition of voting rights advocates has already said the state should encourage voting by mail but also maintain in-person polling places. To expand access to the ballot box, the state should set up an online voter registration system and allow election-day voter registration, the coalition said.

California ships 100 ventilators to New Jersey

California has shipped 100 ventilators to New Jersey, State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said Tuesday, helping the Garden State grow its stockpile ahead of an anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients later this month.

California has not been spared from the pandemic; it’s seen more than 14,000 coronavirus cases and 300 related deaths. But social distancing policies appear to have had their intended effect there, with the rate of increase in new cases on the decline.

Any number of ventilators, no matter how small, is welcome in New Jersey, which has received slightly more than half of the 2,500 life-saving breathing machines it has requested from the federal government.

With the 100 from California, New Jersey has now received 1,450 ventilators from outside sources to supplement the 1,700 that its hospitals had before the crisis.

Still, state health officials want at least 4,000 ventilators total to weather a potential surge in patients. As of Tuesday, more than 7,000 people who either tested positive for COVID-19 or are under investigation were in New Jersey hospitals, with 1,540 of them on ventilators, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

Callahan said he hopes to be able to repay the favor to California or other states “when we get to the other side of the curve.”

Gloucester County gets testing site

Gloucester is the latest county to launch a testing site for its residents, adding to a growing list of public testing sites across the state.

The testing site at the Rowan College of South Jersey’s campus in Sewell is due to open Wednesday for symptomatic county residents with appointments.

Those can be made by calling 856-218-4142, although on Tuesday afternoon a recorded message said all available slots on Wednesday had been filled.

Five coronavirus cases at Barnes & Noble warehouse

Five workers at a Barnes & Noble warehouse in Middlesex County have been infected with COVID-19, the company said Tuesday, and at least four other employees reported symptoms of the illness.

The announcement came a day after a group of workers at the 800-employee distribution center said they were planning a protest to urge the New York-based bookseller to close the warehouse for two weeks and enact better policies to prevent employees from catching the disease on the job.

The warehouse in Monroe Township is the company’s largest.

“We prioritize keeping our working environment as safe as possible and, on learning of the positive cases and those suffering symptoms, we closed the facility and had conducted a thorough clean,” company spokesman Alex Ortolani said Tuesday. “We have notified and worked with the health department on these cases and are keeping in touch with the employees as we hope for their quick recoveries.”

Workers, who were aware of at least one case as of Monday, said the company needed to do more than simply clean the warehouse.

They also called for hazard pay, a two-week closure of the facility and the ability to self-quarantine or stay home without fear of retaliation.

Ortolani said Barnes & Noble has increased cleaning, reduced staffing, enacted new social distancing measures and asked employees to stay home if they feel ill or uncomfortable coming to work.

“We appreciate all the hard work and efforts of our staff, and will continue to listen to their concerns and work with them to make a safe and secure work environment,” he said.

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