Gov. Phil Murphy recommended canceling all public gatherings of more than 250 people, including concerts, sporting events and parades.
The announcement, made at 2 p.m. Thursday, is another example of how quickly events around the coronavirus outbreak are changing.
Twenty-four hours before, Murphy and others around the state and country were preaching common sense responses. Since last night, the NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball have shut down their seasons and many major college basketball tournaments have been canceled.
So, the response has changed, Murphy said in a release.
“Today, based on guidance we have received from the commissioner of health, we are recommending the cancellation of all public gatherings throughout New Jersey of more than 250 individuals, including concerts, sporting events and parades. These measures are being taken as part of our coordinated response to the continued outbreak and to aggressively mitigate the spread of the virus.
“Additionally, for all events, we recommend that everyone practice common-sense hygiene, like washing hands routinely, staying home if you do not feel well and keeping a 6-foot distance from others.
“Our frontline efforts right now must be to aggressively mitigate the potential for exposure and further spread. We are taking this step because social distancing works. It is our best chance to ‘flatten the curve’ and mitigate the chance of rapid spread, so we can respond to this public health emergency in an even more focused manner.”
At the daily coronavirus briefing Thursday, state officials emphasized this is only a recommendation, not a mandate.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said Murphy made the decision based on the daily collection of data he receives on the situation around the state.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said she hopes groups will take it into consideration, even for large gatherings such as weddings.
“Part of the personal responsibility of those people is to consider the impact of having 250 people in a contained space for a period of time,” she said. “I think we’re allowing a little bit of leverage for that and a little bit of leverage for religious events, but we’re really asking people to make their own decision.”
State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan said authorities do have the ability to enforce the recommendation, he said at the daily briefing.
“If agencies and institutes chose not to follow it, we do reserve the right to come and go: ‘You’re not having that event. You’re not having that wrestling match, basketball game, concert,’” he said. “But we think that the recommendation, in and of itself, should be taken under advisement.
“(We hope) people take it seriously and hope that we don’t have to get to the point of mandating it under that declaration. But we do reserve the right to do that.”
The recommendation came around the same time Newark Mayor Ras Baraka recommended that all “non-essential” gatherings of 250 persons or more in Newark should be canceled for the next 30 days.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop canceled all city events and had recommendations for private ones, including keeping a registry of those who attended should the virus later be linked to the event.
New York state also announced it is banning all gatherings of 500 people or more in an attempt to contain the virus, according to the Associated Press.