Murphy reopens NJ parks, maintaining focus on COVID-19 social distancing

UPDATED: 3:37 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed an executive order to reopen New Jersey’s state parks, county parks and golf courses.

The order will take effect at sunrise on Saturday, May 2.

Social distancing rules are still in effect until further notice, but wearing a face covering in a park will not be a part of the mandate, the governor said, though it is recommended.

Murphy hammered social distancing again at his Wednesday media briefing, saying that residents continuing to keep their distance from each other is the only way New Jersey will get back to something resembling business as usual.

“We cannot have everyone rush out to a park or golf course,” he added. “Social distancing will be strongly enforced, and we expect golf course personnel to enforce this requirement.”

With New York and Pennsylvania also reopening golf courses, Murphy said he didn't want to see residents needlessly crossing state lines. But the governor said his decision was based on data, not political pressure.

“We have seen a consistent reduction in some key metrics, including hospitalizations. I am hopeful that we are getting on the road back,” he said.

His office will be monitoring compliance, and Murphy said he’s ready to close the courses and parks again if he has to.

“If we don't like what we see over the weekend — I'm not trying to be a jerk about this — if we see a congregation of people and they're not social distancing and not wearing face masks, we will reconsider,” he said.

Murphy ordered parks closed April 7 after he said there were too many people congregating and failing to socially distance. Golf courses were considered nonessential businesses, which have been closed since March.

There will be a few conditions placed on reopening: parking lots at parks and courses must be capped at 50% capacity; playgrounds and restrooms at parks will be closed; picnics and other gatherings will not be permitted.

The governor announced new positive COVID-19 test results since Tuesday, numbering 2,481 — pushing the statewide total to 116,264. And, he reported the deaths of 329 more New Jersey residents. The state has now lost a total of 6,770 souls to complications from coronavirus.

Finding some good news, Murphy said even though 6,289 patients are currently hospitalized for the respiratory illness, New Jersey has seen overall decreases in that figure, particularly in the north and central parts of the state.

He noted, however, that the number is actually growing in South Jersey.

LOOK: This graph shows, by region, how many patients our hospitals are treating.As we can see, we are seeing a downward bend of the curve across both North Jersey and Central Jersey. But, we are seeing the increases now hitting South Jersey. pic.twitter.com/WfoQW2yQXQ

— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) April 29, 2020

The number of days it takes for cases to double now tops 30 days in some of the hardest-hit northern counties, while southern counties are seeing cases double much more quickly, in about nine days in some places.

Murphy also signed an executive order to allow petitions the seek to get municipal or county initiatives on the ballot to be signed electronically.

"No one, and I mean no one, should be going door to door to collect signatures," he said.

Casino-hospital alliance

Atlantic City's casinos are teaming up with a hospital system to consult on protocols and best practices regarding the coronavirus before the casinos reopen.

No date has been set thus far for the nine casinos to reopen. But The Casino Association of New Jersey said Wednesday it is working with AtlantiCare to share information on the virus and make recommendations, including lessons the health care system has learned in its own hospitals.

Neither side gave specifics about things the casinos will do to protect guests and workers from the virus, but casino executives across the country are considering various measures including having everyone wear masks, staggering slot machines, more frequent cleaning, and possibly using plexiglass barriers to enforce separation on the casino floor.

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KYW Newsradio's Mike DeNardo and Eric Walter, as well as the Associated Press, contributed to this report.