In a move that signals an understanding that COVID-19 does not respect political boundaries, Gov. Phil Murphy joined with his counterparts in New York and Connecticut in announcing a series of mandatory closures in the region all designed to limit the close interactions that facilitate the spread of the virus.
As of 8 p.m. Monday night, venues will limit crowds for recreational and social gatherings to 50 people. Restaurants and bars will serve only takeout and delivery, and movie theaters, gyms and casinos will suspend operations as of that time.
“With all we are seeing in our state — and across our nation and around the world — the time for us to take our strongest, and most direct, actions to date to slow the spread of coronavirus is now,” Murphy is quoted as saying in a press release. “I’ve said many times over the past several days that, in our state, we are going to get through this as one New Jersey family. But if we’re all in this together, we must work with our neighboring states to act together. The work against coronavirus isn’t just up to some of us, it’s up to all of us.”
His counterparts, Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York, and Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut, are also quoted in the press release, which says that the regional action was necessitated by a “lack of federal direction and nationwide standards.”
Murphy is also strongly discouraging all unnecessary travel between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The steps, and others already announced, mark a paradigm shift in how residents will live their lives, as the coronavirus runs its course and officials work to keep people safe.
All three states have announced plans to close schools — in New Jersey and New York, starting Wednesday, and starting Tuesday in Connecticut.
In New Jersey, the school closure is until further notice, impacting 1.4 million students.
Marissa Ruggiero of Springfield, who has a fifth-grade daughter in the schools there, was all in favor of the step.
“I think it’s a great idea,” she said. “We’ve been pushing for the schools to be closed last week. I haven’t sent my daughter to school since last week. So I’m happy we’re finally taking things seriously.”
Meanwhile, officials also announced that the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission will close all facilities until March 30, and motorists will get a two-month extension on deadlines.
In addition, New Jersey’s 65,000 state employees will start working from home as of Wednesday.
Ruggiero, who works for an international firm based in Switzerland, has already taken that step, as have most of her coworkers.
“It’s a public health crisis, a pandemic,” she said. “We really need to flatten the curve. We have to minimize exposure as much as possible. I’m concerned about everybody else. I’m concerned about my parents, who are over the age of 60. They’re an at-risk population.”
Closing schools is a touch decision. Half a million New Jersey students depend on schools for meals. Kids at Springfield can pick up breakfast and lunch daily at the high school, and other districts across the state are making similar arrangements. Instruction will continue online or with take home packets.