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March 30, 2020

Gov. Murphy wants harsher punishments for New Jersey residents not social distancing

Harsher punishments for violators of the state's social-distancing guidelines to combat the spread of coronavirus could be coming, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said during his press briefing Monday.

"I would like for us to consider the heft of the penalty that one has to pay in these times in some extraordinary fashion," Murphy said. "It's one thing to be ignorant, although the patience for ignorance is about zero, given we've been pounding away on this every which way, morning, noon, and night. But for someone to willfully ignore this and put someone else's life at stake, you're out of compliance and it's illegal behavior. I want to, if anything, tighten the screws on the prices that these folks will pay."

Murphy's desire for more enforcement comes as some New Jersey residents continue to disregard the state's stay-at-home order and ban on all gatherings, which took effect on March 21, to mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak. Police have broken up a number of mass gatherings across the state this month, including several events on Sunday in Lakewood, Ocean County and party in Ewing, Mercer County, on Friday.

"Social distancing is absolutely necessary for us to slow the spread of COVID-19, to flatten the curve of new cases, to save lives, and to protect the ability of our health care system to help those who need the help the most," Murphy said. "We try everyday to hammer this point home. Sometimes with levity, sometimes by standing up to those who have failed this lesson."

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has threatened legal consequences for violators of the social-distancing guidelines, saying that individuals who refuse to stay home or choose to host parties, and non-essential businesses that don't close, could be cited or even indicted for not abiding by Murphy's executive order.

Murphy updated the definitions of essential and non-essential businesses Monday to include auto dealerships, which now are allowed to conduct online and remote sales of vehicles, as well as to deliver vehicles directly to customers or set-up pickup options at the dealership. Gun shops have also been deemed essential business now, and breweries are now permitted to conduct deliveries to customers.

Despite a ban on open houses, realtors are again permitted to show properties to potential buyers on a one-on-one basis or to immediate families. Murphy also announced that all golf courses will be closed as recreational business.

Grocery stores, food banks, pharmacies, medical marijuana dispensaries, gas stations, automobile repair shops, convenience stores, banks and financial institutions, hardware repair stores, laundromats, printing stores, pet stores, stores with children's supplies, mail and delivery stores and restaurants, bars, and liquor stores with takeout have all been previously deemed essential businesses in New Jersey and allowed to stay open.

Murphy said that the state is preparing for the need for more hospital beds and is working with hospital systems to expand bed capacity in their facilities. As a result, the officials are seeking to reopen closed hospitals that could provide roughly 1,300 more beds.

"We will do everything we can to get the beds we need," Murphy said.

New Jersey is setting up temporary hospitals in all three regions of the state, including a makeshift hospital at the Atlantic City Convention Center that will create 250 beds for South Jersey patients with non-COVID-19 issues. Those hospitals, which in total should account for 1,000 beds, are expected to be up and running soon.

New Jersey has 16,646 confirmed coronavirus cases, the second-most of any state, and 198 deaths as a result of COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon. There are 520 patients in South Jersey counties, the most of which are in Camden County (200) and Burlington County (178).

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