Fulop urges taking attendance at private events in case coronavirus is linked to gathering

Mayor of state’s second-largest city wants to be proactive, with plans including limiting liquor sales, canceling city events and keeping schools open

By Tom Bergeron
Jersey City | Mar 12, 2020 at 1:11 pm

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop announced a number of regulations — and suggestions — for businesses and residents of the state’s second-largest city in an effort to be as proactive as possible in the face of the growing coronavirus outbreak in the state.

The biggest decisions revolve around the mass gathering of people.

Fulop said the city is canceling its events, but is not telling private companies to cancel theirs. He’s just asking them to be more proactive and keep an accurate account of who attends, should the need for that list become vital later.

“We’re asking private venues and churches to better track attendees, because we’re going to be responsible in the case that there is a positive test here, which is just a matter of time,” he said.

Fulop said the city is not asking more of its private companies — other than to act responsibly.

“We’re doing our best at this point, and we recognize businesses are aware of the situation and can make a judgment call on what’s best for their employees,” he said.

Fulop said the city also is changing its liquor license laws. Last call will now be at 10 p.m. It’s a move that will help reduce large gatherings.

“We’re going to put some restrictions on that, because we think it’s a reasonable and it’s in best interest of the public health,” he said.

Fulop, however, said the city will not move to close its schools.

“We’re not closing the schools right now,” he said. “We have unique challenges in that we have a very diverse community. The most diverse in the country. We have a lot of languages spoken here, a big immigrant community here and we have a high poverty rate. That leads to a lot of different challenges if you were to close the school.

“What happens to child care for working parents? Maybe they give the child to the grandparents. That’s not helpful in this situation, right? What happens to the meals if a child was getting meals via the schools?”

Fulop said the city is doing more to create a safer environment in the schools.

“We’ve put cleaning protocols in place at each of the schools,” he said. “We’re doing deep cleaning, daily. We’re cleaning the bus system daily and more aggressively.”

He said schools also are preparing for future moves.

“We have put plans in place via remote learning in the case that they do need to cancel, so we are prepared for that, but that’s not something that we’re doing right now,” he said.

Fulop said he felt it was important for the city to act aggressively.

“I think we’re being more aggressive than most, because there’s so much uncertainty and we don’t want to keep coming back, saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to go a little bit more incrementally,’” he said. “We think that’s better to be proactive, be early and take it from there gradually backwards, as opposed to needing to go forward because you haven’t done enough initially.”

Here’s a look at more of the interview:

ROI-NJ: What is the city doing specifically to help slow the spread of the coronavirus?

Steve Fulop: We canceled all city events. We went to appointment-only for all city services. We’re waiving nonessential services that we can’t go to appointment only, like parking permits, for example. So, we’re going to be waiving that process until we have more clarity around the virus.

ROI: Are you making suggesting to businesses about letting their employees work from home? Is that something you want to get involved with?

SF: We’re doing our best to at this point, and we recognize businesses are aware of the situation and can make a judgment call on what’s best for their employees. We’re making a decision around businesses that attract large groups of people. Where we could put restrictions, we’re going to do that, because we think that’s important to protect the broader community.

So, we haven’t told the private companies that don’t attract large groups how to act — and most of them are acting responsibly, proactively. But we are taking the initiative around (changing the hours you can serve alcohol), for example. Use Newark Avenue as an example. You have some venues there that, on a given night, get thousands of people. It’s an uncontrolled environment. So, if you’re thinking about schools and a workplace, which is a controlled environment, logically, you should be thinking about uncontrolled environments as well.

ROI: Tell us more about how you are changing liquor license rules?

SF: We are putting a curfew on liquor license sales for 10 p.m. The logic on that is pretty simple. People are putting limits on controlled environments, meaning that environments where people know who is supposed to be there, whether it’s a work environment or a schools, so we think it’s reasonable for large, uncontrolled environments to put restrictions around that as well. So, we’re going to put some limits there and we’re just trying to be as proactive as possible.

ROI: Talk about the idea of knowing who is at your venue?

SF: We’re asking private venues and churches to better track attendees, because we’re going to be responsible in the case that there is a positive test here, which is just a matter of time.

We’re reaching out to places like banquet halls, churches, houses of worship, where it’s more reasonable to ask for that sort of information and more easily obtainable. So, we’re saying, you have an event at the Westin, we’re not asking you to cancel it, we understand that you’ve paid a lot of money and it’s not a city-involved event, but we are asking you to have some basic awareness and recordkeeping of attendees. Because when, or if, this ends up being broader in New Jersey or in the New York area, which we think is highly likely, it’s on the local Health and Human Services Department to track who each individual had contact with and try to mitigate damage that way. So, having access to this sort of information makes a lot of sense.

ROI: Keeping a tally, are you able to do that for bars and restaurants?

SF: With the bars and restaurants, it’s very tough. Look at some of those larger nightclubs. It’s very tough to ask everybody to sign in and think that that’s going to be accurate information. The easier thing for us to do during a circumstance where there’s not a lot of information — or there’s a lot of information, but it changes so frequently — is to limit those sort of situations.

So, we are going to be saying to a nightclub or a bar that it’s lights out at 10 p.m., before the big crowds start to get there at 11, 12, 1 and 2. Jersey City has started to attract a lot of people for nightlife from New York, from elsewhere. We’re going to put some restrictions on that, because we think it’s a reasonable and it’s in best interest of the public health.

ROI: Last question: Your outreach. How do you keep in touch with such a diverse community — especially at a time when information is changing rapidly?

SF: Obviously, we use all the normal tools. We have a big reverse 911 system. We have a good outreach to the churches and houses of worship. So, I think that we have a good process in place to do outreach. It’s never perfect, but we think we’re in a good place.

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