Enforcement will be a Big Issue


NEWARK – Whatever the crisis, wild rumors abound.

And with New Jersey gripped in a coronavirus panic, state officials on Saturday tried to shut down the spead of misinformation. Of particular concern were reports a national lockdown – whatever that means exactly – was coming.

Not true said Gov. Phil Murphy.

Later in the governor’s daily press briefing, Jared Maples, head of the state office of Homeland Security, added some intrigue by saying a “foreign power” was involved in spreading some of the false info.

The Russians?

Maples didn’t say, but he did add that with the virus raging, China and Iran have been the source of misinformation. Both nations also have been hard hit by the virus.

The governor urged residents to get info from a newly-created state web portal that can be reached at covid19.nj.gov.

On Friday, the governor said he was ready to “tighten the screws.”

That happened today.

Acting via executive order, Murphy said all non-essential businesses must close and that residents must stay in their homes in just about all cases. Still, this does not seem to be an iron-fisted decree.

As the governor acknowledged, residents are permitted to walk or jog for exercise and to visit a rather lengthy list of essential businesses that can remain open. That includes medical offices, supermarkets, convenience stores, liquor stores, banks, gas stations, dry cleaners and restaurants serving take-out only.

Many folks have to drive to those locales, so one presumes cars still will be on the road. Additionally, one can still drive across the Hudson, albeit for a good reason, Murphy said.

A number of professions, including health care workers and the media, are exempt from the stay at home order.

Not exempt are all formal gatherings, among them weddings, funerals and the like. As the governor put it, this is not the time for people to visit the Shore for a “party on the beach.”

Enforcement is going to be a big issue, and that is where things can get sticky.

Patrick Callahan, the head of the state police, said violating the order would be a disorderly persons offense. In the spectrum of crime, this is a minor offense that is handled in municipal court. And he
stressed that police always have discretion.

A possible problem is that the state police are not the local police in New Jersey. Municipal police are.

And it’s certainly possible that some departments may enforce the order more stringently than others.

I guess we will have to see how it goes. Sizing up the latest order, which followed closing schools and
limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people, Murphy said, “There’s not a lot more we can do.”

The stats are not good.

As of today, there are 1,327 people with the virus in the state; 16 of whom have died.

“We’re at war,” the governor said.

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