Murphy lifts stay-at-home order, Rutgers issues update on operating status

State officials have taken several new steps to guide the reopening of New Jersey following its shut down due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. There have been 166,164 cases and 12,489 deaths throughout the state as of today, according to the COVID-19 Information Hub.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced the stay-at-home order, which was first put into place on March 21 through an executive order, is now lifted for New Jersey residents. While residents are no longer required to remain inside, they are still encouraged to practice social distancing and must wear face coverings in public spaces.

"Let's keep this in mind: Research shows that stay-at-home orders have saved lives, and in our case, hundreds if not thousands, not just here in New Jersey but across the country," Murphy said. "We would not be at this point today had we not taken this step. Always keep those words in mind: Public health equals economic health."

Murphy also issued a new executive order to increase the limits of indoor and outdoor gatherings. He said indoor gatherings are now permitted at either 25 percent of a building's capacity or 50 people total, whichever is the lower of the two numbers. Individuals are still required to wear coverings and stay 6 feet apart from one another.

The capacity for outdoor gatherings has also been raised from 25 individuals to 100 individuals, he said. All outdoor recreational and entertainment businesses, with the exception of amusement parks, water parks and arcades, are now authorized to reopen as well.

"There will be an exception explicitly allowing outdoor gatherings of more than 100 persons for First Amendment protected outdoor activities, such as political protests of any persuasion or outdoor religious services," Murphy said. "Given the growing body of evidence showing the reduced risk of transmission outdoors, we believe such a rule appropriately prioritizes individuals' rights to speak and worship freely."

Murphy said they anticipate to increase the limits of outdoor gatherings to 250 people on June 22 and 500 people on July 3, but could be subject to change if they see a new spike in COVID-19 cases.

On Wednesday, Murphy spoke on New Jersey's timeline for increasing the number of COVID-19 contact tracers who will work to identify those who have come in contact with an infected individual. He said there are currently 900 contact tracers and hopes to have approximately 2,500 later this month.

He said residents will only be contacted if contact tracers are given their name by someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Murphy said this program will ensure all individuals maintain their privacy, meaning the information of New Jersey residents will never be used for immigration enforcement, public charge assessment or to deny access to healthcare and other essential services. He also said contact tracers will never ask for an individual's social security number, financial information or immigration status and may be signs of a possible human contact tracing scam.

Today, Murphy reminded residents that New Jersey will enter the second state of reopening on Monday. This means outdoor dining services and indoor non-essential retail businesses will be permitted to reopen. He also said he plans to issue an administrative order tomorrow to allow libraries to offer curbside pick up to the public, beginning on Monday.

Personal care businesses, such as hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors and spas, among others, are allowed to begin operation on June 22, Murphy said. Additionally, organized sports will be permitted to resume on June 22 as well and must adhere to guidance from the New Jersey Department of Health.

The New Jersey Department of Education will also be issuing guidelines to allow school districts to conduct in-person summer educational programs, Murphy said. These operations will be permitted to begin July 6.

Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi also issued an update on the operating status of the University. He said graduate students will be permitted to return to the University in September for a combination of in-person and remote instruction.

"Much of graduate education depends on research activity, and we must do everything we can to help our graduate students achieve the timely completion of their studies," Barchi said, according to the update. "For this reason, graduate education will be prioritized for access to campus facilities wherever possible - again, in absolute adherence with state and federal guidelines, testing expectations and strict plans for protective distancing."

In regards to undergraduate education for the Fall 2020 semester, Barchi said they are still assessing the opening status on campus, according to the update.

"(Due to) the complexities created by adhering to protective distancing guidelines in our residence halls, dining facilities and transportation system, undergraduate education remains the most difficult area of planning," Barchi said, according to the update.

He said they are currently working to prioritize areas of study that would require in-person instruction, such as the arts, engineering design projects and undergraduate clinical instruction. Rutgers chancellors are working with members of the University to identify disciplines that require special consideration.

"While the continued wait for a firm decision regarding all undergraduate educational programs is frustrating, we also do not want to make a call prematurely that will limit our ability to move forward in the fall," Barchi said, according to the update. "We will make a final decision on the scope of in-person undergraduate education by the first week of July."