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Pinelands Regional High School students return to school for their first day Tuesday Sept 8, 2020. Edward Lea Staff Photographer / Press of Atlantic City


Local
topical featured
COVID-19 pandemic decimates outdoor endurance events

One by one, all of the major 2020 outdoor endurance events have been canceled or converted to virtual events due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the Atlantic City Marathon, Atlantic City Triathlon, Escape the Cape Triathlon, Tri the Wildwoods, Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.

The inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon also has canceled its 2021 race.

“The costs of closing the roads for the course of the marathon, the number of volunteers that are needed to come together and the implications of someone potentially getting sick at the event. We felt the potential cost didn’t outweigh the potential benefit,” said Genia Bittner, race director for the Atlantic City Marathon.

Right now, Gov. Phil Murphy is limiting outdoor events to no more than 500 people. Bittner said, historically, the marathon attracts as many as 2,500 people during the course of a weekend.

She said that not only would the number of people be a problem for putting on an endurance event, but an event like the marathon draws runners from all over the country who would have to quarantine based on measures established by Murphy.

“There have been very few events that have taken place across the country, and they’ve taken place on a very small scale,” she said. “If a race has taken place, no one is allowed to gather at the finish line. No spectators are allowed. Volunteers were very limited. There are so many constraints. For a 5 (kilometer) race it’s feasible, but when you look at 26.2 miles, it becomes a much more significant undertaking.”

An undertaking so significant that races have been canceled all over the country. RunSignup is a company based in Moorestown, Burlington County, that organizes more than 21,000 races in all 50 states through its website and app. According to a recent survey the company did, race organizations are projecting on average in 2020 they will see just 45% of the revenue they made in 2019.

Locally, several of the events canceled this year are run by Steve Del Monte and his company, DelMoSports, including the Atlantic City Triathlon. He thinks there’s a double standard in New Jersey and elsewhere that he says has forced nearly two-thirds of his contemporaries to go out of business.

“So you can get together to praise whatever god you believe in outdoors and there’s no numerical limit, or you can get together and lock arm in arm to exercise your right to protest. That is your right to do,” he said. “But if you want to get together and celebrate health and wellness — which to me is my religion — there is a limit on that?”

Despite the limitations, Del Monte found ways to work within the social distancing guidelines as he put together his annual Escape the Cape Triathlon in June. The race, which traditionally draws a few thousand people, starts on a ferry boat as competitors are taken a mile off the Cape May coast. The race begins with a 12-foot jump off the boat into the Delaware Bay.

LIVE COVID-19 UPDATES: Atlantic County Executive urges Murphy to reopen indoor dining, gyms, theaters

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, is requesting that Gov. Phil Murphy lift restrictions on indoor dining and bars, gyms, movie theaters and entertainment venues arguing that county businesses can't wait any longer.

“We have already lost Memorial Day and Fourth of July business and are fast approaching Labor Day and the fall season with no indication that the governor will permit indoor dining and entertainment anytime soon,” Levinson said. “Our restaurants are dying on the vine and cannot survive on just take-out, delivery and curbside service alone. Outdoor dining will become much less appealing as the temperatures drop and our active hurricane season continues to pose threats.”

Levinson suggested that those businesses be allowed to reopen at limited capacity with the same health and safety requirements that other businesses are following. He added that Connecticut and Massachusetts both resumed limited indoor dining in June without any notable increases of COVID-19 cases.

“The governor states that his decisions are based on science and data but we’ve yet to see it," he said. "Where’s the data that says that it is somehow safer to open those big box stores and indoor businesses than it would be for a restaurant or movie theater to open. If others can do it, why can’t we? We’re fighting for our economic lives here and we need the governor to take action.”

Levinson cited a report by StratoDem Analytics that indicated New Jersey had a second-quarter economic loss at an annualized rate of 34.6% which is higher than the national loss. He also cited Atlantic County’s 40% drop in gross domestic product, the highest among all counties in the state.

“How can the governor ignore this devastating economic data?” he said. “If these businesses have any chance to survive, they need the opportunity to reopen. We are confident they can operate safely and without placing any additional risks on their customers. At this point, it’s do or die.”

Atlantic County Freeholder Chairman, Frank Formica. said hE supports Levinson in asking the governor to reopen indoor dining and entertainment and will bring the concerns before the bipartisan Board of Freeholders.

“I fully anticipate the freeholders will pass a resolution to implore the governor to take this necessary action,” Formica said.

During COVID-19 daily press conference, Gov. Phil Murphy mentioned on Monday that the owner of a North Wildwood restaurant was cited by police recently after officials received complaints that the business was crowded, and staff were not enforcing social distancing.

Officers saw "large amounts of patrons crowded around the upstairs outside patio bar, known as "Tiki Topz," according to a press release issued by the North Wildwood police. Social distancing regulations were not being enforced by staff.

The police had received complaints previously about repeated violations of Murphy's orders, according to the release, and had warned the managers of the business.

During the same press conference, Murphy also said there are 472 COVID-19 patients in New Jersey hospitals. The confirmed COVID-19 patients are 264, and 208 are persons under investigation pending the return of test results.

There two new cases of COVID-19 infections in Cape May COunty, but zero deaths, said Cape May County's Department of Health on Monday.

One case each was discovered in Middle Township and North Wildwood, the county said. Two new out-of-country positive cases were also detected.

Total positive cases of COVID-19 infection in Cape May County is now 1,041, including 83 deaths, the county said. New Jersey has 187,767 total COVID-19 positive cases and 14,077 deaths, the county said.

The state on Monday reported 316 new positive COVID-19 test results for a cumulative total of more than 187,760, along with another four fatalities for a confirmed total of 14,077 and another 1,839 deaths considered probably associated with the disease.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness or death.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories announced the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in mink at two farms in Utah. Mink are dark-colored, semiaquatic mammals that are in the same family as weasels, otters and ferrets.

These are the first confirmed cases in mink in the United States after large numbers of mink died at the two farms. The affected farms also reported positive cases of COVID-19 in people who had contact with the mink.

Mink were known to be susceptible to COVID-19 after the virus was found in the animal on multiple farms in the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark.

There is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a role in spreading the virus to humans, according to the USDA. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered to be low, but more studies are needed to understand how different animals may be affected and whether animals play a role in the spread.

The Rock 'n' Roll Atlantic City Half Marathon has canceled its 2021 event, according to a post on its Facebook page.

"After further discussion and internal evaluation regarding the future of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Atlantic City Half Marathon, we have come to conclusion that we cannot viably operate the event and it will therefore will not take place in 2021," the post read. "Series officials will continue to evaluate options for possible future events in the region."

All registered participants of the event will receive an email with further details. Anyone with additional questions can contact rnrac@runrocknroll.com.

"In what has been a continually evolving and challenging time globally, we recognize that this will come as a disappointment, but we look forward to providing athletes with an exceptional experience at a future event," the post stated.

Gov. Phil Murphy appeared on NBC's "The Today Show" Monday morning to discuss vote-by-mail, the Democratic National Convention and his response to COVID-19. Host Craig Melvin asked the governor his stance on vote-by-mail as the Nov. 3 general election nears and President Donald Trump has said election results by mail-in ballots could take months or years.

“We should fund the post office,” Murphy said. “I applaud Speaker Pelosi for pulling her caucus and house back in. They have this phrase…go bigger or go home and apparently, Senator McConnell took the, ‘Let's go home’ choice.”

Last week, Murphy announced that the Nov. 3 election will be mostly vote-by-mail, saying the vote-by-mail primary in New Jersey was successful.

With the Democratic National Convention starting this week, Murphy—who co-chairs the Democratic National Committee— said it’s going be an “unconventional one without question.”

“I think it's going to be an incredible week and it will set a big contrast to all this other unproductive noise of ‘us versus them,’” he said. “This is going to be a week where Democrats show, as big as our tent may be, we know how to bring people together. We know how to unite America.”

Melvin asked the governor about schools reopening in the state and how districts can opt virtual or in-person instruction, or a hybrid of both, but that Murphy announced recently that school districts can go all virtual if they choose to do so.

“Our objective is still very much to get in-person learning in one form or another,” Murphy said. “What we said last week is that if a district does not feel as though it's ready to go on day one, whether it's a shortage of plexiglass or masks, or maybe more than a complicated one, like ventilation systems, (it can) present a plan, give us a sense of how you're going to address that deficit and give us a date as to when you think you'll get there."

He expects that many schools will have some form of in-person instruction on the first day of school, but he’s allowing districts time to get there if need be.

“We're going to allow that flexibility,” he said. “Our principles are health and safety, educational quality and equity. We cannot forget equity. Not every family has the same circumstance and ability to do things like remote learning.”

Melvin ended the discussion on when the governor believes indoor dining, gyms and theaters may reopen, as they are the only three businesses still not permitted to allow customers inside.

“Those are hard, Craig,” Murphy said. “We're not there yet. We had a productive call with hundreds of gym owners, our team did on Friday. I hope we'll get there sooner than later. Indoor dining is something we all want to get to.”

He explained that COVID-19 is “a lot more lethal” indoors than out.

“We've been able to do what we've done so far and keep the virus somewhat in check, our numbers are a lot better than they were certainly months ago, but we paid an enormous price,” he said. “We're still not out of the woods. We're going to take this one carefully and again I hope, I hope we'll get to gyms and indoor dining sooner than later.”

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Atlantic County health officials reported no new COVID-19 deaths for the 15th time in the last 16 days on Monday.

However, 13 additional residents tested positive for the virus. They included seven males, ages 16-65, and six females, ages 21-65. Four reside in Pleasantville, three in Hamilton Township, two each in Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township, and one each in Buena Borough and Egg Harbor City.

The total number of confirmed cases in the county is 3,805. There have been 2,321 residents who have been cleared as recovered, and 242 who have died.

The county will continue to provide testing by appointment at its drive-thru facility in Northfield at Rt. 9 and Dolphin Avenue, behind the county public works yard, every Tuesday in August from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. unless otherwise noted.

The test site is available for both symptomatic and asymptomatic county residents with or without a doctor’s prescription. Residents must provide proof of county residency and appointment confirmation. Appointments can be made online at www.aclink.org.

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Gov. Murphy's COVID-19 briefing will be held at 3 p.m. and will include Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli; Department of Health Communicable Disease Service Medical Director Dr. Edward Lifshitz; State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan, Senator Paul Sarlo, and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. The livestream can be watched here.

Del Monte said he organized multiple boats that would each hold only 400 people to maintain the regulations mandated by the state. He also took steps to limit contact points as competitors transitioned from one stage to the next.

Still, 90% of those who signed up said they didn’t want to compete.

“It shocked me. What it showed me was that the psyche of our athletes has undergone a major transformation over these last few months, and rightfully so,” he said. “If you watch the news, you are going to have some serious psychological issues going on because it’s just doom and gloom out there.

“There are people who say, ‘I just don’t feel comfortable racing.’”

One of those is Galloway Township’s Tony Sample, who was scheduled to compete in the Atlantic City Half Marathon this year, among other races on the East Coast.

Sample is the captain of the South Jersey chapter of Black Men Run, a running club that trains in the Atlantic City area. He has run leisurely for most of his life, including running track in high school, but he really got serious about it in 2015 when he joined Black Men Run, which is based in Atlanta.

Each week, usually on Saturday mornings, he joins other Black men to primarily run on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. He has competed in the Atlantic City Marathon since 2016.

For several months, the pandemic took all that away.

“Once the pandemic hit hard, we actually canceled all our group runs,” the 47-year-old electrician said. “We just recently picked it up again with face masks and social distancing.”

But the decision to run again, even in a small group, hasn’t been easy. Sample said he has family members who contracted COVID-19 who have “pulled through.” But he doesn’t want to take any chances.

“With this pandemic, I’m not looking to register for any big races,” the Atlantic City native said. “I’m just looking to stay local and look for more of the smaller events right now until this pandemic is under control.”

For the immediate future, race organizers such as Del Monte and Bittner are finding other ways to stage races. The most popular option is holding a virtual race where athletes run on their own, keep track of their accomplishments on a smartphone or watch and upload the results to a race’s website.

Del Monte, who said he’s moving forward with in-person plans to hold the Crest Best Run Fest in Wildwood Crest on Oct. 10 and 11, thinks the pandemic will have a lasting effect on his industry and the competitors. He predicts it won’t be until 2022 before people feel entirely safe about competing in person again.

“We have not yet begun to see the ramifications of the psychological and economic impact that this will take on our communities,” he said. “If we thought this spring and summer was a challenge, wait until you see what the winter and early spring will bring us.

“It’s going to take twice as long to get the athletes back to what they were feeling prior to this. It’s just not going to happen right away.”

PHOTOS from the Cape May Hallowed Half Marathon

Local
topical
Major races get creative with virtual events amid pandemic

Scheduled for October, the Atlantic City Marathon — and just about every other race in the country — has gone virtual.

In a virtual race, the athlete is able to participate from where they live. They record their runs using a tracking app on a smartphone or watch and then upload the results to an event’s website. Usually the participants have several weeks to record their results.

But Atlantic City is trying something different. Using an app designed by Moorestown, Burlington County, company RunSignup, all participants will login into the app at 8 a.m. Oct. 18 and begin recording their run at the same time.

“Everyone is participating together, but doing it from their own location,” race director Genia Bittner said. “Our goal is to continue the history of the event and have it be an actual event, rather than just people running on all different dates and sending results in.”

Bittner said the app will allow “spectators” to send a cheer to competitors they follow, and it will allow the organizers to track people “so results make sense and pace and things like that are accurate.”

“We are 100% committed to continuing the Atlantic City Marathon into the future,” Bittner said. “We’re hoping this is a one-year thing.”

Bryan Jenkins, vice president of sales for RunSignup, said his company is working with race organizers to try to come up with other ways of holding a race. According to a survey by his company, virtual events are expected to make up 28% of race companies’ revenue in 2020.

“We are starting to see more creativity,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said another interesting idea is what’s being done with the Richmond Marathon in Virginia. Organizers have roped off a course along a bike path in the city for several weeks. From Nov. 7 to 22, competitors will run the course in smaller groups.

PHOTOS from the Cape May Hallowed Half Marathon

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson looks on during an NFL football practice, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola, Pool)


News
breaking featured
Almost 13,000 register to vote in 4 days on NJ's new website

New Jersey’s first online voter registration site has registered 12,858 residents since launching Friday, according to the state Division of Elections.

“We were excited to come back from the weekend and see these numbers,” spokesperson Alicia D’Alessandro said Tuesday. She said the site, which the division debuted with a “soft launch,” performed well.

Now, the state is ready to promote it in time for National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22, D’Alessandro said.

The site collects date of birth and identification documentation and sends it to election officials in the home county of the person registering.

Only those who register by Oct. 13 will be able to vote in the Nov. 3 general election, which will decide the next U.S. president, one of New Jersey’s U.S. senators and all 12 of the state’s congressional delegates.

Previously, those registering to vote needed to print, sign and mail a registration form.

Voters can find the tool at voter.svrs.nj.gov/register.

“With the launch of online voter registration, New Jersey has expanded access to our democracy,” said Secretary of State Tahesha Way, who is responsible for overseeing elections in the state. “Especially as we face this ongoing pandemic, we are committed to reducing barriers that may prevent potential voters from participating in our elections.”

Those registering need to provide a birth date and proof of identity. For identification, they either must provide a current and valid driver’s license or non-driver identification card issued by the state Motor Vehicle Commission, or they can provide a Social Security number.

If using an MVC identification, the state will use the signature on file with the MVC. But if providing a Social Security number, the registrant must be able to upload a signature onto the site. If that is not possible, registering must be done the old-fashioned way, by downloading a form, completing it and sending it to the county election registrar.

In-person voter registration is also available at a municipal clerk’s office or county commissioner of registration’s office, according to the Department of State.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced the registration website at the same time he announced the Nov. 3 general election will be conducted mostly by mail.

Murphy, a Democrat, signed an executive order in August calling for all registered voters to get a ballot in the mail, beginning Oct. 5, along with a prepaid return envelope.

Only those with handicaps preventing voting by paper ballot will be able to use machines on Election Day. Everyone else who shows up at the polls will have to fill out paper provisional ballots, he said.

“Ensuring that every voter has the ability to securely cast their ballot while protecting public health is our paramount concern,” Murphy said at the time.

To address concerns over the U.S. Postal Service’s reliability, Murphy said voters will have several options to return their ballots: They can mail them, as long as they’re postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, or take them to at least 10 official drop boxes throughout each county.

Ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 will be accepted up to a week later, Murphy said, and even those that arrive without a postmark up to 48 hours after the close of polls will be accepted.

Voters also will be allowed to drop off their filled-out ballots at the polls. Murphy said each county is required to have at least 50% of its polling places open. Each town must have at least one polling place open.


State
AP top story
Tax revenues better than thought, lawmakers' estimate shows

TRENTON — New Jersey’s tax revenues aren’t as dire as Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy estimated, legislative calculations published on Tuesday show.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services projects about $37.8 billion in revenue through June 2021. That’s nearly $1.4 billion higher than what the governor laid out in his budget address last month.

The difference is significant because it could mean lawmakers and Murphy won’t have as much of a budget gap to close. The biggest difference between the legislative estimates and Murphy’s are in the income tax. The Legislature’s estimate foresees about $880 million more than what Murphy’s administration projected.

Murphy’s proposal estimates a nearly $5 billion hole, which he wants to fill with $4 billion in borrowing and nearly a $1 billion in higher taxes on millionaires, yachts and certain businesses. He’s also put forward nearly $1 billion in cuts and savings, though those fall short of the belt-tightening some fiscal hawks want.

Murphy said Tuesday he thought it was best to be “prudent,” and added he would review the Legislature’s figures.

He added he planned meetings with legislative leaders for later Tuesday to go over the budget.

The estimates come as the Democrat-led Legislature begins considering Murphy’s proposal in committee hearings on Tuesday.

Lawmakers have until Sept. 30 to get a budget to Murphy’s desk.

The fiscal year typically ends June 30, but it was extended this year by three months because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Fiscal 2021 will run from Oct. 1 through June 30. The state constitution requires a balanced budget be enacted.

Although legislative analysts publish their own revenue estimates every year, it’s the governor alone who has the constitutional authority to certify revenues. That means his figures will carry the day.

Murphy has said the virus has hit lower-income residents particularly hard, making him reluctant to cut services when people might need them most.

Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio, who testified before lawmakers Tuesday, cited Census Bureau data indicating employment was 20% lower for people making below $14 an hour, compared with those making more than $32 an hour, whose employment levels were 2% higher than in January.

“If there is one thing this pandemic has both laid bare and exacerbated, it is the inequities that have long underpinned our society,” she said.

Republicans have said it’s unclear the new debt Murphy wants the state to take on is needed.

PHOTOS of Labor Day weekend in Ocean City