TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Gov. Phil Murphy is recommending another dramatic step in the prevention of the spread of coronavirus.
On Thursday, he announced that he is recommending the banning of all public gatherings of more than 250 people. The decision falls in line with what other municipalities around the country have adopted.
Later in the day, Bergen County school officials said that after 3 p.m. on Friday, their schools would be closed for the next two weeks. Hoboken Public School District and the Hoboken Charter Schools announced similar plans to close Monday, also for two weeks.
“Today, based on guidance we have received from the Commissioner of Health, we are recommending the cancellation of all public gatherings throughout New Jersey of more than 250 individuals, including concerts, sporting events, and parades,” Murphy said. “These measures are being taken as part of our coordinated response to the continued outbreak and to aggressively mitigate the spread of the virus. Additionally, for all events, we recommend that everyone practice commonsense hygiene, like washing hands routinely, staying home if you do not feel well, and keeping a six-foot distance from others.”
So far in New Jersey, one person has died and there have been 29 presumptive positive tests for the virus, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver confirmed at an afternoon media briefing. Also on Thursday, the state launched a coronavirus tracker that will allow residents to track the number of cases by county.
BREAKING: Today, I am recommending the cancellation of all public gatherings of 250+ people, including parades, concerts, and sporting events.
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) March 12, 2020
“Our frontline efforts right now must be to aggressively mitigate the potential for exposure and further spread. We are taking this step because social distancing works. It is our best chance to ‘flatten the curve’ and mitigate the chance of rapid spread, so we can respond to this public health emergency in an even more focused manner,” Murphy said of the large gathering directive.
CORONAVIRUS: CDC Latest | NY Health Dept. | NYC Health Dept. | NY Hotline: 1-888-364-3065 | NJ Health Dept. | NJ Hotline: 1-800-222-1222 | NJ Coronavirus Tracker | CT Hotline: 211
Department of Health Commissioner Judith Perischilli said the state has started assigning risk assessments to each county. To date, Bergen County has the most presumptive positive cases with 13. As a result, it now carries a moderate risk.
The next highest is Monmouth County with five. It carries an above minimal risk. Burlington and Middlesex counties have two cases, each carrying none to minimal risk.
CONFIRMED CORONAVIRUS CASES IN NEW JERSEY: 23
- Bergen County: 13
- Burlington County: 2
- Camden County: 1
- Essex County: 1
- Hudson County: 1
- Middlesex County: 1
- Monmouth County: 5
- Morris County: 1
- Passiac County: 1
- Somerset County: 1
- Union County: 1
MORE: New York Confirmed Cases
“The reason for risk categories is to show we still think in New Jersey the risk is low,” Perischilli said, adding later, “We certainly will get through this, but we have to work together. The public has a large part to play in this.”
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Persichilli was pressed by reporters on why the state is only recommending people don’t attend large gatherings when many think it should be mandated.
“It’s a great question. The first part of it is, we are recommending that people, that they cancel any gathering over 250, recommending people not go,” Persichilli said. “The bottom line is, and the question came up, what if it’s a wedding? … What if it’s a private event? Part of the personal responsibility of those people is to consider the impact of having 250 people in a contained space for a period of time. I think that we are allowing a little bit of leverage for that, a little bit of leverage for religious events. But we are really asking people to make their own decision.”
When pushed further on the issue, Persichilli said, “I think we are as close to mandating it as we felt necessary at this time.”
“I think that the administration and particularly Commissioner Persichilli has effectively communicated out to all stakeholders in the New Jersey family. What is happening is many of those that run large venues, just as people are self-quarantining, many of the sponsors of the events are making the choice to postpone their events,” Lt. Gov. Oliver added.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.
The governor’s plan comes not long after a horse racing track announced it is temporarily stopping operations because a person who was there on Saturday has been in contact with someone who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
Freehold Raceway said the person who attended the track had not tested positive for the virus. Track officials said that live racing scheduled for this week and next would be canceled, and it’s not clear when it might resume.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)