Social Distancing in a Crisis – Get Used to it, New Jersey


“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual.” – Aristotle

The Center for Disease Control has made clear that social distancing—remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible—is a critical practice to slow the transmission of Coronavirus in our state.  In New Jersey, among other things, Governor Murphy has (to this point) banned events larger than 50 people, schools are closing for weeks, and people need to reduce time in public settings.  Bars will close tonight at 8 p.m. for eat-in services. These measures are hard to do.  We are social beings and accustomed to going to restaurants, shopping and work at will.  This will have to change over the next weeks.

On the same day the state health commissioner noted that a Covid-19 death occurred in the aftermath of a transmission at a family gatheringGovernor Phil Murphy specifically lingered on social distancing on Sunday’s press briefing call.

“Not enough is being done,” said the governor. “There is too much business as usual. This is something no one can be cavalier about.

“Even if you’re young, we need everybody to take [social distancing] to heart,” he added. “Obviously losing schools is a big step in that direction. Working at home is a big step in that direction.”

On Monday the governor was set to announce extensive social distancing measures to mitigate further spread of Covid-19.

New Jerseyans need to take these concerns seriously. It is more than just protecting your own health. Practicing social distancing is indeed your responsibility as a citizen in the state.  As Assemblywoman Joanne Downey shared “The idea is simple: If low-risk people don’t socially distance, then the entire containment process is not effective. Generally, there are fewer high-risk individuals — the sick and the elderly — and they don’t tend to move around as much as lower-risk individuals. Therefore, it’s more likely that a low-risk individual will expose a high-risk individual to the virus.”  So even if you feel your risk is low, your probability of infecting others is quite high.

However this weekend crowds at Asbury Park restaurants and bars remained large, despite clear instructions for social distancing practices.  Garrett Giberson, Asbury’s Office of Emergency Management noted that this was: “Shocking, considering what’s going on globally, it boggles my mind people don’t have common sense what officials on all levels of government have said about social distancing. It’s not a joke it’s a serious matter.”

As a result, this afternoon, Asbury Park’s governing body has declared a state of emergency in the city.  Effective immediately city facilities are closed to the public; all restaurants and bars with liquor license must close by 10pm; and all nonliquor establishments that hold 75 or more people must also close by 10pm.  And shortly after the announcement, the owner of the Watermark bar posted on Facebook that the Watermark will be closed until it is safe for customers and staff to be in close proximity to each other.

While the immediate impact of social distancing is improving public health outcomes, there are larger impacts of the practice.  The Jersey Shore is gearing up for the kick-off to summer on Memorial Day weekend.  This is just a little over two months away.  The summer tourism season is a critical economic life blood for our shore communities.  This year it will be even more important (perhaps even more so than the summer after Hurricane Sandy). Restaurants, hotels, retail shops, bars, Uber/taxi drivers and other tourism sector workers and business are suffering—we know that.  However, if we invest in social distancing now, along with comprehensive programs to support affected workers and businesses, it increases the probability that we can salvage some of the summer tourism season.  If not, and people continue to ignore social distancing recommendations, the economic, public health, and individual toll will be even more pronounced as we start the summer.

Social distancing is our responsibility to ourselves, our families, and our fellow New Jerseyans.  So stay home as much as you can in the next weeks. Don’t take your children to the mall or playgrounds, don’t host dinner parties at your house, don’t meet friends out for drinks, and don’t go out to group events.  But do skype/video chat with family and friends, take walks outside (staying 6 feet apart from others), and stay connected to others in a virtual space.  And purchase gift cards online now to our Jersey hotels, restaurants and retail shops.  If we follow these measures conscientiously and faithfully, then hopefully we can all use those gift certificates come this summer.

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