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The road to reopening from the devastating blow of COVID-19 has not been easy for the state of New Jersey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranks New Jersey at 2nd for the highest number of deaths in the state. Seeing as the death count is so high, New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, has created a “multi-stage approach” that is “guided by six principles and key metrics” (New Jersey COVID-19 Information Hub). According to an infographic titled The Road Back: Restoring Economic Health Through Public Health, on nj.gov, the state’s official website, “maximum restrictions” was the first stage of COVID-19 restrictions, and was executed in the early months of the pandemic (in March and April). Some of the guidelines for this stage of reopening included strict social distancing measures, the closing of non-essential businesses, restriction of socialization to family members, and moving students to distance learning. Residents of New Jersey were instructed to stay at home as much as possible, and to wear masks whenever out in public. They were encouraged to stay away from essential businesses (grocery stores, pharmacies, medical facilities, etc.) unless absolutely necessary. Most New Jerseyans obeyed the new rules and regulations, due to the rapidly escalating number of COVID-19 cases in the state at the time.
On May 2, 2020, Governor Murphy proceeded to Stage 1 of the reopening strategy. The infographic on nj.gov states that “restrictions [were] relaxed on low-risk activities that [were] easier to safeguard.” Low-risk activities are activities that still allow for social distancing and sometimes mask-wearing. They include camping, hiking, going to the beach, golfing, playing tennis in private clubs, horse-back riding, and more. There were also relaxed restrictions on low-risk areas, such as state parks, forests, golf courses, beaches, boardwalks, lakes, lakeshores, campgrounds, batting cages, shooting and archery ranges, stables, private tennis clubs, community gardens, and horse racetracks. Additionally, outdoor gatherings increased from 10 people to 25 people. Furthermore, outdoor recreational and entertainment businesses reopened, although the reopening of amusement parks, water parks, and arcades were halted, due to the increase in cases that was seen at the end of Stage 1. Those who are clinically high-risk were told to continue to stay at home as much as possible. Childcare was allowed to open, but with firm capacity restrictions. Public transit was reopened with enhanced safety and cleaning measures, and only those who were unable to work at home were encouraged to use public transit. Elective surgeries also opened as well, giving people access to elective healthcare. All New Jerseyans were to continue maintaining social distancing, wearing masks in public, washing hands regularly, and disinfecting workplaces regularly.
As of July 17, 2020, New Jersey is currently in Stage 2, the next stage of the reopening plan. Stage 2 began on June 15, 2020. The infographic says that Stage 2 has “moderate-risk activities [could be] restarted with safeguarding.” During this stage, childcare was opened to all of their clients, not just those who could not work from home. Outdoor dining was also opened. Places such as non-essential retail stores, personal care businesses (nail salons, hairdressers), swimming pools (both outdoor and indoor), shopping malls, playgrounds, amusement parks, water parks, museums, libraries, aquariums, indoor recreational facilities, casinos, gyms and fitness centers, and Motor Vehicle Commission agencies were all reopened (with social distancing and capacity restrictions, of course). Youth day camps and summer programs were also able to reopen at the beginning of July. The limit on outdoor gatherings was raised to 500 people, and outdoor graduation ceremonies were allowed to occur. In addition, the NJ Transit rail, light rail services, private-carrier buses, and Access Link vehicles all returned to their full weekday schedule, and their seating capacity restrictions were lifted as well. Furthermore, there is a travel mandate that says that people traveling from the following states must self-quarantine for 14 days: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin. New Jerseyans must continue to wear masks, social distance as much as possible, and wash their hands frequently.
So what’s next for New Jersey? So far, things seem to be holding up in the state. The average new cases per day is around 390-400, which is a significant improvement from the 3,000-4,000 new cases that New Jersey had seen in April. Once Stage 2 is finished, Stage 3 will commence, and include expanded dining, limited entertainment, expanded personal care, and bars (with limited capacity). There are some growing concerns about a potential rise in COVID-19 cases due to the large crowds that are flocking to the shore, but the governor said that he is working closely with the Jersey Shore officials to ensure that people are safe at the beach. There has also been a surprisingly large amount of backlash on social media because of the governor’s mask mandate. Both the New Jersey government and Governor Murphy are very vocal about mask-wearing on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram. A lot of New Jerseyans responded to the government’s encouragement of mask-wearing on Twitter with statements such as “Nope! This is not a legal order!” and “Corona is a HOAX! Impeach Murphy!” Unfortunately for them, masks are required in nearly all public places in New Jersey, and businesses have the right to refuse entry to customers that are not wearing masks. According to the COVID-19 Health Data website, if masks were to be universally worn in New Jersey, the daily death rate would drop from 35.82 (as of July 11, 2020) to 4.01 by the time November rolls around. Furthermore, COVID Act Now says that New Jersey is “New Jersey is on track to contain COVID. Cases are steadily decreasing and New Jersey’s COVID preparedness meets or exceeds international standards.” We have seen that through social distancing, regular mask-wearing, and a well-thought-out reopening plan, New Jersey has been able to get itself on track to recovery from the devastation that this virus has caused. If other states take after New Jersey and ease their way into reopening, the United States, as a whole, may be able to get on track to recovery as well.
Written by Anokhi Matta
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