What to Know
- New Jersey has broken its single-day pandemic case record twice in the last four days; certain counties have been harder hit than others
- Essex County has reported more confirmed COVID cases and deaths than any other in the state; infections there continue to rise unabated
- The mayors of Newark, East Orange, Orange and Irvington agreed to impose a 24-hour nonessential business curfew if the numbers keep rising; the governor's office says they'll need state permission first
The mayors of four New Jersey cities in the state's hardest-hit Essex County have agreed to impose a 24-hour curfew on all nonessential business if COVID cases continue to rise. If that measure and other recent mitigation efforts fail, they are prepared to impose a three-day shutdown order, one of the officials tells News 4.
The cities involved are Newark, Orange, East Orange and Irvington, all of which have seen COVID positivity rates skyrocket well above the already surging statewide average in recent weeks. Essex County has more confirmed COVID cases (30,780) than any other county in New Jersey and has been adding hundreds more each day, most recently 355 on Tuesday, state data shows.
"If the numbers continue to go up, we're going to ask the community to shut down for 24 hours," East Orange Mayor Ted Green told News 4, adding he and the other three mayors agreed on the curfew in a Zoom meeting a day earlier. "We're going to have to stop the stores opening up. We're going to have to stop the beauty salons opening up. And if the numbers go up again, [we] shut down for 72 hours."
A spokesperson for Gov. Phil Murphy's office says the mayors would need state permission before enacting either of those curfews. It wasn't immediately clear if any of the Essex County mayors involved had sought that out as of Tuesday.
In addition to the most cases, Essex also has confirmed the most deaths of any county in New Jersey since the pandemic began. East Orange ranks second in Essex County in terms of both cases and deaths behind Newark.
Green didn't offer a particular threshold that would trigger a 24-hour nonessential business shutdown, but he says city officials are monitoring daily data closely.
Amid the latest surge, all four of the mayors in question have imposed new local rules over the last month, even before New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced a series of new statewide restrictions over the last two weeks. The most recent of those, a 10-person limit on indoor gatherings, took effect Tuesday. Newark had done that already. And all four of the Essex mayors have ordered restaurants and bars to shut down at 8 p.m., earlier than the new 10 p.m. state curfew.
"We are begging people, that we mean business," Murphy said.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has been at the forefront of those local efforts. Early last week, he imposed a mandatory 9 p.m. weekday curfew (10 p.m. weekend) nonemergency or nonessential work in certain areas of three high-risk ZIP codes, a measure akin to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's micro-cluster strategy in New York.
Baraka capped both indoor and outdoor gatherings at 10 people, paused all sports in the city for two weeks and banned long-term care facility visits for the same time period. He also imposed new mask, capacity restrictions and temperature check requirements for religious services and banned restaurants from accepting any holiday reservations for more than 10 people.
Baraka said last week he would reassess the situation after Dec. 1 to determine next steps. He tells News 4 there are signs of improving compliance, which is hopeful. But the state and U.S. predicament has only grown more urgent since he enacted the new local rules. And the expert-feared holidays are fast approaching.
In just the last five days, New Jersey has broken its own single-day pandemic case record twice. The state's positivity rate has soared well above 9 percent. All but six of the state's 21 counties reported more than 100 new cases overnight, state data showed Tuesday. An equal number of counties, including Essex, reported more than 300. Hospitalizations are at their highest levels since late May. Murphy reported 38 new deaths Tuesday, the highest daily toll since May 21.
In his briefing a day earlier, Murphy warned the numbers would continue to worsen with the threat of holiday travel and colder weather approaching.
"This is wasting over us, it's going to get worse," he said. "We have to leave other options on the table."
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The state has dispatched hotspot teams to assist hard-hit cities with testing, messaging and other strategies. But if current trends worsen, the mayors of Newark, East Orange, Orange and Irvington don't want to wait for potential new statewide actions from Murphy's office. They intend to take their own.
While some business owners may balk at the ongoing impacts, Green says he feels they know it could turn even worse if stricter actions aren't taken now.
"We are very afraid these numbers are going to balloon if we don't do things right" with the holidays coming up, Green said. "It's tough love. If I didn't love you, I wouldn't do it. But I can tell you if these numbers go up here in the city of East Orange, I am shutting things down. I'm the mayor, and I gotta make sure my top priority is to make sure my people are safe and healthy."
"They can be mad at me later, but I have to do what I have to do," he added. "They entrusted me enough to lead this city. They got to trust me enough that I have to do everything to keep people safe."