TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — In perhaps his strongest words since the coronavirus outbreak started, Gov. Phil Murphy made it clear to New Jerseyans on Wednesday that new directives on social gathering will be enforced.

Murphy started his media briefing by announcing that there are 162 new positive cases, bringing the total statewide to 427, including five deaths. He attributed the new numbers to the increase in testing and social spread of the virus.

The governor reiterated gatherings of 50 or more people are banned and he had a message for people trying to gather “underground,” at residents’ homes: The ban will be enforced.

“If people are gathering in large numbers, we don’t care where they are gathering. It’s a public health concern,” Murphy said. “We will enforce this aggressively over the coming days and weeks, if need be. We need everyone to take personal responsibility to do their part to ‘flatten the curve.'”

He then outlined in detail the types of gatherings that will not be tolerated.

“Simply put, this is not a time for anyone to be bringing people together, whether it be for a wedding, a funeral, a religious rite of passage, a large birthday, an anniversary, or other party,” Murphy said. “We mean it when we say 50 people. I feel awful about this, you’re going to have to figure that out. We mean it. It’s a real public health reality.”

Gov. Phil Murphy’s Coronavirus 3/18 Update

“Anywhere a group gathers is a place where coronavirus easily spreads, even if you are showing no signs of the illness. This is a particular shout-out to our youth. You could still carry and spread coronavirus. We cannot run the risk, especially where there may be multiple generations of people gathering, or even interactions with older generations.”

CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

Home Depot in Paramus had a line out the door as people abided by Bergen County’s new limit of no more than 50 people inside stores at a time. In Essex County, CBS2’s Jessica Layton saw neighbors helping neighbors by picking up groceries and leaving the bags on their stoops.

Children whose schools are closed have been learning remotely; social distancing has been the most important lesson of all.

“I’m not even allowed to visit my grandparents because I’m afraid of then maybe me infecting them,” said Millburn resident Sarita Popat.

The local walking trails have been packed with people taking in fresh air and trying to get rid of stress.

One group of friends decided to pick a quiet neighborhood in Short Hills for a bike ride, taking precautions their parents have been hammering home.

“We each brought our own water bottle, keeping distance and not touching hands and stuff like that,” Popat said.

Murphy said he’s sorry if some disagree with the state’s approach, but the public health concern is the only thing that matters at this point.

“Our job is to be straight with you, to do everything we can to get out ahead of this. And by doing so, even though there is short-term pain, [the plan is] to lessen the anxiety and not to increase it. But these are extraordinary circumstances,” Murphy said. “So we urge you in the strongest possible terms, make the right call.”

All schools were officially closed Wednesday in New Jersey.

Murphy said the state will be meeting with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday to discuss ways to build out hospital capacity. He is also speaking with the state’s congressional delegation about ways to lessen the economic burden being felt by small businesses and workers who are worried about where their next paycheck may come from. In addition, he said he is speaking with health care system CEOs and unions to iron out the continued challenges the state faces.

CORONAVIRUS: NY Health Dept. | NY Call 1-(888)-364-3065 | NYC Health Dept. | NYC Call 311, Text 692692 | Westchester Testing Call 1(888)-364-3065 | NJ Health Dept. | NJ Case Tracker | NJ Call 1-(800)-222-1222 or 211, Text NJCOVID to 898211 | CT Health Dept. | CT Call 211

Of the 162 new cases, which were nearly double the total from Tuesday, Bergen County had the most with 27. Middlesex (17), Essex (12) and Union (12) had the next highest day-over-day increases, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

She said the two new confirmed deaths due to the virus were people over 60 with underlying conditions.

The commissioner also discussed ways New Jersey is planning to handle the surge in cases, in addition to hospital planning, and increasing manpower, supplies and space.

An additional 260 Intensive Care Unit beds will be brought on-line Wednesday, including 199 in the northern part of the state. Another 227 beds will be brought on-line in the next three-to-four weeks. She also said previously closed Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury is expected to re-open and accommodate 300 more beds, Persichilli said.

As for the growing need for more health care professionals, the commissioner said she is working with the state’s Nurse’s Association and that a call to action to all all nurses who hold active or inactive licenses has been issued.

Persichilli said she signed an executive directive on Tuesday that authorizes hospitals to use state certified mobile intensive care paramedics in hospital settings to perform duties within their scope of practice to enhance and supplement existing staffs. She also said the state is working to expand testing. She said a site in Bergen County will be up and running on Friday that will have the capacity to collect 2,500 specimens per week.

With 114 total positive infections, you could call Bergen County the state’s hot zone for COVID-19.

Cones tents and trucks crowded the Bergen Community College campus parking lot where the National Guard and state Department of Transportation were preparing for drive-thru testing, CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported.

“Once the patient goes to the hospital it takes three to five days to get results, so all that time you’re wondering what is the real situation?” Paramus Emergency Medical Services Chief Milton Kohlmann said.

The county’s first responders are on the front lines, donning eye covers, masks, gowns, and gloves.

Paramus Emergency Services responded to a potential case Tuesday night, following another Sunday. They’ve specially outfitted two ambulances, covering supply cabinets to avoid cross contamination.

Police have protective gear in every car, including a breathing apparatus.

“Since incidents have been ratcheting up here, getting further equipment is getting more and more difficult,” Paramus Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg said.

The borough is in close proximity to Teaneck, which has the highest number of cases in the county. Holy Name Medical Center has tents outside to test people with symptoms, and the town’s business district is deserted, suggesting residents are obeying the mayor’s directive to self-quarantine at home except for food, medicine, and work.

Starting this Saturday in Bergen County, groups congregating in public will be limited to four people, except for families. County Executive Jim Tedesco is also implementing a 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, which is two hours longer than the state’s curfew.

Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka also announced a mandatory 8 p.m. curfew for residents. Non-essential businesses were required to close by 8 p.m. Wednesday and remain closed until further notice. Restaurants are allowed to remain open for take-out and delivery, but must close by 8 p.m. daily. City Hall services will remain open to residents by appointment only.

“You can’t do what we’ve done and not have a dramatic, and I would use the word dramatic, impact on people’s lives,” Gov. Murphy said.

Wednesday, we learned an anonymous donor has given $2.25 million to University Hospital in Newark to help in the response to this public health emergency.

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