New Jersey is the one first states to act on COVID-19 measures and have been placing orders to keep everyone as safe as possible, from closing parks and places of large gatherings to implementing a mask rule for any retail stores.
As the state continues to reopen, the city opened larger parks to provide spaces where pedestrians could walk and get fresh air while still adhering to social distancing rules. The city also announced that testing would be extended to all residents, with and without symptoms. As the city and the state start to slowly reopen, a lot of us are wondering – what’s the plan?
As the virus started to pick up speed in the United States in March, Jersey City closed its bars and nightclubs early. Now, Jersey City works directly with a lab to test city residents to streamline the process and avoid any delays between the state or county. But what’s to come?
In a recent report by The Daily Beast, testing would have to increase dramatically in order to have business run as usual, but the mayor recognizes that this is unrealistic. As it is, Jersey City can test 2,100 people daily, but this still wouldn’t be enough for everyone in the densely populated city unless we receive more tests from the federal government. Fulop’s approach is realistic – take precautions and open slowly – while taking into account how difficult it is to receive additional testing.
1. What have other cities done?
Rises are expected as testing becomes more available and as more public spaces open, but high-risk states like New Jersey, New York, and California are working to prevent a high resurgence.
We always expected to see an uptick in new covid19 cases as states re-opened and the data seems to be indicating that cases are rising in reopen states. Some of these increases are a function of more testing; but some rise in new cases, as states re-open, should also be expected. pic.twitter.com/3uJyfTOyrt
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) May 12, 2020
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen many populous cities and counties extend their stay-at-home orders. New York City has extended their stay-at-home measures to June, Los Angeles County announced a potential 3-month extension of their lockdown, and the DC Mayor extended their shutdown through June 8. The reopening process seems to be moving slowly – New Jersey just recently opened non-essential retail stores, but only for curbside pickup. Essential stores are still limiting the number of customers allowed to enter at a time, masks are still meant to be worn, and dine-in restaurants are still not allowed.
For those areas that have opened early, their beginning stages include limiting capacity in typically crowded spaces (malls, restaurants) and spread out seating. Even with these measures, some have seen a spike in their positive COVID-19 cases. Arizona has seen a spike during their reopening process after opening retail stores for in-person shopping and allowing dine-in services, and Texas saw a spike after reopening on May 1st. Since the virus takes some time to exhibit symptoms in a person, we won’t see an accurate spike in cases for another couple of weeks in states that have recently reopened, like Georgia.
2. Is it safe to reopen?
In a slow moving process, sure. We just have to be sure we meet requirements for the sake of preventing a constant spread of this virus with a resurgence. Dr. Fauci has warned that states could see an uptick in cases if they open up too quickly without reaching the designated checkpoints, including a consistent drop in cases for two weeks.
Many people, Mayor Fulop included, understand the realistic side of these stay-at-home orders – we can try to make people stay home and keep things closed, but people will start to grow agitated and go outside anyway. Businesses would be forced to remain closed, people wouldn’t be able to make a living, and people would stop following the measures in place as time passes. With his approach, people won’t feel as confined to their homes as they did for the past few months. At the time of writing this, Jersey City has seen a huge decrease in new daily cases and fatalities. This can be a great sign of reaching “normalcy” as long as we all do our part in the process. Wear masks when you go outside, keep your distance, continue to wash your hands. Even with current reopening measures, we’re seeing a lot of people stay home, so it won’t be a swarm of residents in the streets the way people imagine it’d be.
Jersey City has started providing testing for all residents, so we’ll probably see an increase in numbers over the next few weeks. If we do see a significant increase, then there may be more asymptomatic carriers in the area and reopening would have to be a carefully devised plan. It’s all about understanding what’s going in the area and the surrounding cities. City officials in the tristate area know it’s not smart to reopen all at once, but a slow reopening with enforced measures may be key in allowing us to feel normal again.
3. How has New Jersey started its reopening process?
Following the opening of state and county parks, New Jersey has now started opening other facilities and services. On May 13, Governor Murphy signed an executive order allowing:
- the restart of non-essential construction, effective May 18
- the reopening of non-essential retail stores with curbside pickup, effective May 18. In-store shopping will remain closed to customers at non-essential retail stores.
- drive-in events under social distancing guidelines, effective immediately
Governor Murphy has also announced that the details of each stage and what we can expect to reopen – we’re currently in Stage 1 of the reopening process. As of May 22, outdoor gatherings have been extended from 10 to 25 people, and indoor gatherings remain at 10 people.
As we enter each stage, we will allow businesses and activities to reopen according to their risk level and the challenges they will face to safeguard public health.
We will aim to move through each stage as quickly as we can, but with public health firmly in mind. pic.twitter.com/OehvRWrT8m
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) May 18, 2020
4. What is Jersey City doing for its reopening process?
As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, the reopening is happening in phases. Some parks are currently open, all monitored to ensure social distancing measures are still being followed. The rest of the parks will open in the following weeks. The city has also started construction on a park on MLK Drive and moved forward on renovations for Berry Lane’s skate park. Municipal courts have reopened with a new virtual system. Farmers markets in Jersey City have also reopened with proper sanitation measures in place in order to provide healthy food to residents. Paulus Hook’s farmers market was the first to open followed by Grove Street, and markets provide a preorder pickup service to minimize possible contamination.
Testing has also expanded with increased accessibility via mobile testing for senior living housing and public housing sites. Antibody testing is also available for residents.
What is antibody testing? Antibody testing just determines if you’d had the virus and have the antibodies to work against the virus. The test doesn’t determine if you currently have the virus, it only detects if you’ve recovered from the virus.
Another big step the city is taking is reopening City Hall and public offices to workers. At the moment, 25% of employees are working from the office with a goal of getting the full staff back in. With the reopening of City Hall, employees and the public must wear masks at all times and all offices are appointment-only. Upon entering the building, everyone will have a body temperature reading and supplies such as masks, gloves, face shields, and hand sanitizer are available.
On May 22, the city announced in a press release that they will be taking aggressive steps to help small businesses prepare to reopen their doors. The plan includes testing for all employees of local businesses, providing each local business a reopening package that will include PPE and sanitizer once the business is tested, and a process for restaurants to easily expand outdoor seating to offset loss of indoor seating. Businesses can apply to get testing upon reopening and apply to expand their outdoor seating.
In a recent interview with Len Berman and Michael Riedel, Fulop mentioned that the capacity for restaurants will change – seating and tables will be far apart – and outdoor seating may be expanded by taking away parking spaces on the street. From what we’ve heard, it’s all about staying safe while still allowing businesses to slowly reopen to the community. Even when the state finally gives the green light for everyone to return to normalcy, Fulop has made it clear that reopening will focus on the safety of the residents above all.