jersey shore

Virus Concerns Grow — As Do Crowds Flocking to Jersey Shore for July 4th Weekend

Large crowds are expected at the shore for the holiday weekend: NJ’s casinos have reopened, along with amusement rides and water parks; beaches are open, though at reduced occupancy levels, and restaurants can offer outdoor dining as shopping malls have reopened

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What to Know

  • NJ health officials reported 58 news deaths Friday related to COVID-19, the highest in at least a week. Spot positivity and the rate of transmission is up slightly, although officials said they are not areas of concern yet
  • New York City has joined New Jersey in shelving indoor dining indefinitely as bar- and restaurant-linked COVID cases surge across the nation; Gov. Andrew Cuomo will allow the rest of the state to continue indoor dining
  • New York City will still transition to the third phase Monday absent indoor dining, resuming personal care services from nail and tanning salons to spas and massage parlors with COVID safeguards in place

As coronavirus-related restrictions are eased and temperatures climb, people are flocking back to the Jersey Shore.

And with the July Fourth holiday weekend upon us, that’s making some people nervous, particularly given the large crowds that have surfaced at some popular shore spots recently and poor compliance with mandated measures to help slow the spread of the virus.

“I am really concerned,” said Paul Kanitra, mayor of Point Pleasant Beach, a popular shore town that was unexpectedly overrun by thousands of tourists who swarmed the beach and boardwalk a few weeks ago at a “pop-up party,” paying little heed to social distancing or masks.

“We’re seeing spikes across the country in states that opened up weeks ago, and while we’re doing a good job in New Jersey, there are a lot of people that are way too cavalier about social distancing,” he said. “There’s inherent risk in all of this.”

As of Friday, nearly 173,000 people in New Jersey has tested positive for COVID-19. With 58 new deaths announced, the confirmed deaths from coronavirus-related complications rose to at least 13,308, Murphy said Friday. The daily death total was the highest in at least a week.

New York and Connecticut health officials reported nine new deaths from each state on Friday.

“The more than 900 new cases in New York yesterday, while representing just 1.38% of tests, is a reminder that the virus is still here,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a news release.

The Centers for Disease Control released some tips on how to protect yourself from COVID-19 while visiting the beach.

Large crowds are expected at the shore for the holiday weekend: New Jersey's casinos have reopenedalong with amusement rides and water parks. Beaches are open, though at reduced occupancy levels, and on Thursday indoor pools reopened with 25% capacity. Restaurants can offer limited outdoor dining, and stores and shopping malls have reopened.

But not everyone is following rules designed to prevent the spread of the virus, including wearing masks and keeping 6 feet apart. In late June, large crowds swarmed D’Jais, a popular oceanfront nightclub in Belmar in scenes reminiscent of pre-pandemic days. Few patrons wore face coverings, and fewer still kept their distance from others on a packed dance floor.

Gov. Phil Murphy saw videos of the packed club and warned the state will not hesitate to reimpose harsher restrictions if people don’t behave.

“We cannot let up on our social distancing or our responsibility just because the sun is out,” the governor said. “We can’t be lulled into complacency and think it’s OK to crowd around a bar. That is how flare-ups happen.”

Officials worry about lack of social distancing and PPE use as people flock to the shore. News 4's Brian Thompson reports.

Skyler Walker, a woman from Scotch Plains in her early 20s, was on the Belmar beach last week on a sunny day with temperatures brushing 90 degrees.

“I definitely think people people are starting to care less about” the virus, she said. But the face mask she wore on the boardwalk while waiting in line to buy beach badges indicated she does not share that view. “They act like it’s over now.”

She was at the beach with a friend who is a nurse in a Jersey Shore hospital filled with coronavirus patients. The friend, who would not give her name, was adamant that the virus is not over, based on what she sees at work every day. She is scheduled to work at the hospital on July Fourth.

Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian pleaded with residents and visitors to wear masks during the long holiday, including on the boardwalk, noting, “Ocean City is already very crowded.”

Although New Jersey’s hospitalization rate is down drastically from a peak a few months ago, officials fear hospitalizations for the virus will rise again if people become lax about taking precautions.

“We are especially concerned after the gatherings we saw at the Jersey Shore,” added the state’s health commissioner, Judith Persichilli. “Individuals were packed together, which raises the risk of spreading the virus.”

A big test is happening this weekend with the reopening of eight of Atlantic City’s nine casinos. The Borgata is remaining closed due to smoking, drinking and indoor eating bans Murphy imposed on the gambling halls.

Most casinos scan guests temperatures upon entering, hand sanitizer dispensers are placed throughout the premises, and everyone inside must wear a mask.

The first day of operations, on Thursday, appeared to go well, with widespread compliance with virus precautions. In 2 1/2 hours on the gambling floor of the Hard Rock casino, an Associated Press reporter did not see a single person without a mask.

Containment measures are critical to preventing future spread -- even more so as new U.S. data shows indoor, enclosed spaces like restaurants and malls may pose a heightened risk of infection. These concerns have Cuomo and Murphy reevaluating their overall reopening strategies, shelving indoor dining indefinitely in New York City and New Jersey as the nation's top health experts warn the latest U.S. virus surge may already be beyond control.

America shattered its daily new COVID case records again Friday, topping 52,000 new reported infections. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, warned the Senate this week cases could soar to 100,000 a day at the current rate.

Cuomo offered no new potential timeline for the return of indoor dining in New York City, which it had been poised to resume Monday when it enters Phase III of the state's reopening strategy. De Blasio doubled down on al fresco eating in the meantime, announcing Thursday that 22 open streets, some new, some existing, will also host restaurants starting this weekend as part of the city's Open Restaurants Initiative. More than 6,500 eateries have applied for permits so far.

New York City will still transition to the third phase Monday absent indoor dining, resuming personal care services from nail and tanning salons to spas and massage parlors with COVID safeguards in place.

De Blasio also plans to open more outdoor recreation, including tennis, basketball and handballs courts as well as Bocce, soccer and volleyball fields.

The three tri-states jointly imposed a quarantine order last week that requires travelers to self-isolate for 14 days if coming to the region from states where the seven-day rolling average of positive tests or positive cases exceed a certain threshold. The number of states on that restricted list doubled Tuesday to 16: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. Violators of the executive order may face heavy fines.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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