NJ coronavirus: Murphy closes nonessential retail businesses, tells residents to stay home

Ashley Balcerzak
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Gov. Phil Murphy ordered nearly all residents to stay home and closed nonessential businesses indefinitely beginning at 9 p.m. Saturday, as New Jersey joined New York, Pennsylvania and California in taking more draconian measures to stop the surging levels of the novel coronavirus.

The governor also canceled gatherings of any number, including parties, weddings and religious ceremonies. 

"We need you to just stay at home," Murphy said. "We have to change our behaviors."

Murphy also said there were five new deaths caused by complications related to coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 16.  The new deaths announced Saturday included a male in his 50s from Monmouth County; a male in his 80s from Essex County; a male in his 40s from Bergen County; a female in her 70s from Morris County; and a male in his 90s from Bergen County.

Murphy said to expect the restrictions to continue for weeks or months.

"This is not going to change anytime soon," he said. 

Residents may still leave their homes to head to the grocery store, seek medical care, visit close family or someone you have a "close personal relationship" with like a romantic partner, report to work or go outside for exercise. However, Murphy urged everyone to continue to practice safe social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others. 

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Individuals or businesses that don't follow Murphy's executive order will face a disorderly conduct charge, said State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan. Generally in New Jersey, a person with a disorderly conduct charge faces up to 364 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. 

"If folks are monkeying around, we will take action," Murphy said.

Murphy announced 442 new coronavirus cases, bringing the state total to 1,327 Saturday.

Public health officials estimate the number of positive cases will jump to the many thousands as New Jersey expands its capacity for testing, such as opening a drive-thru testing center at Bergen Community College on Friday and another in Monmouth County next week. 

The virus is believed to have spread widely through the community, something testing is expected to show as it increases throughout the state.

On its second day open, the Bergen county testing site began turning people away less than 15 minutes after it opened at 8 a.m., more than seven hours before it was scheduled to close at 4 p.m.

The site had kits to test 350 people on Saturday. It shut down four hours early Friday after handling 650 tests — a quarter of the 2,500 testing kits allocated every week. 

State officials continued to stress the need for personal protective equipment, ventilators and health care staff in the state. Valley Health System issued a plea on Facebook Saturday asking for donations of N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, goggles, fluid resistant isolation gowns and non-latex gloves. 

What's allowed and what's not?

Murphy's executive order will not limit hospitals or health care services, access to essential services for low-income residents, law enforcement and federal government operations.

News organizations are also able to continue to operate under Murphy's executive order.

Businesses offering essential services will remain open, including:

  • Hospitals, healthcare facilities and stores within the facilities
  • Grocery stores and liquor stores
  • Farmer's markets and farms that sell directly to customers
  • Food banks
  • Pharmacies
  • Medical supply stores
  • Gas stations and convenience stores
  • Banks and other financial institutions
  • Pet supply stores 
  • Hardware and home improvement stores
  • Laundromats and dry-cleaning services
  • Car dealerships, but only for auto maintenance and repair and auto mechanics
  • Mail and delivery stores
  • Stores that principally sell supplies for children under five years old
  • Physical therapy offices

Restaurants, liquor stores and bars providing take out may also remain open. 

All other businesses must allow their employees to work from home.

THE DETAILS:What is closed and what is open during the shutdown?

CORONAVIRUS TESTING:Bergen testing center declared at capacity 15 minutes after opening Saturday

Employees still required to go to work include law enforcement officers, firefighters, first responders, cashiers or store clerks, construction workers, utility workers, repair workers, warehouse workers, lab researchers, IT maintenance workers and janitorial and custodial staff. 

Murphy also urged residents to stay at their primary residences, ordering residents to not go to their homes at the Jersey Shore, saying that the off-season infrastructure is not prepared for an influx of part-time residents. 

Social distancing

This broad-reaching move to limit people's contact with each other expands what Murphy had been doing in a piecemeal fashion this week, ordering specific businesses to close, leaving some confusion as to what companies should do if they didn't fall under the categories.

In the last week, Murphy shut down movie theaters, casinos, racetracks, personal care businesses, performing arts centers, shopping malls, amusement parks, amusement centers, clubs, gyms and bars. Restaurants could only offer delivery and takeout, and not allow customers to dine-in. And all public, private and parochial schools were closed as of Wednesday. Murphy shut down public and university libraries and computer labs as of Friday.

Earlier this week, Murphy urged residents to stay home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., banned gatherings larger than 50 including weddings, funerals, religious rites and house parties. 

States across the country called for similar measures, some using the term "shelter in place," or "stay at home" orders. The businesses allowed to stay open vary by state. 

On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all nonessential businesses closed starting Sunday, and outlined stricter rules for high-risk populations like the elderly or those with underlying health conditions. He said New Yorkers should remain indoors "to the greatest extent" possible. 

“When I talk about the most drastic action we can take, this is the most drastic action we can take,” Cuomo said Friday at a press conference in Albany, as positive cases in New York spiked to 7,100, up 2,950 compared to the previous day. New York had 10,356 COVID-19 cases as of Saturday. "This is not life as usual. Accept it. Realize it and deal with it.”

Cuomo said there could be civil fines and mandatory closure for New York businesses that do not comply. New York does not anticipate fining individuals. 

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe ordered Thursday all but "life-sustaining" businesses in the state to close indefinitely. Grocery stores, gas stations, farms and transit systems may remain open. 

California ordered all its nearly 40 million residents Thursday to stay inside and only leave if it's "absolutely essential." Gov. Gavin Newson made the call after an estimated 25.5 million Californians, or 56% of the state's population, were likely to contract COVID-19 if drastic measures were not taken.

Applications for unemployment insurance in New Jersey have already begun to spike, and state agencies and lawmakers are scrambling to offer protections for workers and business owners. 

New Jersey residents cannot be evicted or lose their homes to foreclosure during the coronavirus emergency, under an executive order and law Murphy signed Thursday. The governor also urged banks to be flexible with borrowers during the public health outbreak. 

Struggling small businesses can apply for low-interest federal disaster loans up to $2 million, with an interest rate of 3.75% for small businesses and 2.75% for private nonprofits. The loans are meant to help a company meet its financial obligations, which could have been met if the coronavirus pandemic had not occurred. 

New Jersey launched a website Saturday aimed to answer the public's coronavirus questions, as well as a resource to post job openings in the state. You can visit it at

Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to her work covering New Jersey’s legislature and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: Twitter: @abalcerzak 

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