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N.J. eviction moratorium continues, as COVID-19 crisis enters sixth month

For Ziggy Gallegos, 42, of Egg Harbor Township, losing his job due to the pandemic has meant an inability to pay rent for almost five months now.

His landlord understood for the first few months, as Gallegos struggled to get in touch with someone at the state unemployment program, he said.

But his landlord recently has been telling him he must move out. Gallegos is so afraid of being locked out, he is reluctant to leave home.

Gallegos is not alone in his fears, according to Janel Winter, director of the state Division of Housing and Community Resources in the Department of Community Affairs.

“We have noticed the past several days an uptick in the number of questions coming through (the division’s web portal),” Winter said. “They say, ‘My landlord is saying he or she can evict me.’”

“We want people to know,” Winter added, “ ... right now in New Jersey, a moratorium is in place, and people can stay in their homes.”

The state moratorium, created by Gov. Phil Muprhy’s executive order 106, remains in place until 60 days after the end of the state public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, it runs until Oct. 1. Should the governor extend the emergency again, the moratorium would extend to 60 days after that date.

On July 24, the federal moratorium on eviction, part of the CARES Act, lapsed. Winter said that is probably causing some of the confusion among renters and landlords who mistakenly think eviction is now possible here.

Under New Jersey’s moratorium, no evictions are permitted even for valid reasons, according to the DCA. The courts have suspended hearings and adjudicating landlord-tenant cases, and sheriffs aren’t executing warrants to remove residents from their housing.

Problems paying rent remain widespread in New Jersey.

A July 23 report compiled for the nonprofit Coalition of Housing Advocates in New Jersey by global advisory firm Stout, estimated that 40% of all New Jersey renter households — about 450,000 — will not be able to pay their August rent.

And New Jersey is the seventh most expensive state in which to rent, according to “Out of Reach,” a report jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

Gallegos has been unemployed since losing his job with a timeshare cancellation company in Egg Harbor Township in March, and applied for unemployment benefits April 5.

He has not been able to collect any benefits yet, nor has he been able to get through on the phone to an unemployment agent to fix the problem. When he finally got through to a call center, he was told the center could only take his information, and a specialist would call him in 5 to 10 days. But it has been almost a month without a call, Gallegos said.

“I live in a motel — the same motel almost a year now,” Gallegos said. “I explained the situation I’m going through with unemployment, and showed her (my landlord) the proof. I have zero income. If it weren’t for my girlfriend, I’d probably be dead of starvation.”

According to the DCA, those who rent at motels or hotels on a continual basis, and do not have other permanent housing to return to, are protected against eviction under Murphy’s order.

“I couldn’t imagine what I would do if I had children. It would be dire,” Gallegos said.

Landlords have gotten some relief under the federal CARES Act, Stout said in its report. Smaller landlords with 1-4 unit residential buildings can get mortgage forbearance for a maximum of 360 days, and those with buildings of five or more units can get a maximum of 90 days, according to Stout.

The state’s housing division operates rental assistance programs and pays rent for about 40,000 households every month, Winter said, as well as running homelessness programs and many other programs.

It recently held a lottery drawing for a $100 million state rental assistance program in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and got almost 61,000 applications. On Wednesday, it will notify the about 8,000 households that have been chosen, but they still have to provide more information to the state before being fully approved.

Applications were open to those who had paid their rent successfully prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, and were now having difficulty paying their rent due to the crisis, Winter said.

Their rent will be paid directly to their landlords for a maximum of six months, starting in September, she said.

Under the state moratorium, landlords can file an eviction complaint to start the legal process, but filing the complaint does not mean renters must leave, Winter said.

“Even if served notice, with the moratorium in place you don’t have to leave,” she said.

Landlords are also not permitted to have water and power turned off, or to take other steps to make renters leave.

“If they do that, you should call the police,” Winter said. “Eviction is a legal process. A landlord can’t tell you you have to go, or lock you out. You have a right to go to court and make your case.”

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Al fresco dining at Atlantic City casinos could become 'new normal'

ATLANTIC CITY — Casinos were designed to keep guests inside by offering visitors a plethora of dining, entertainment and nightlife options.

But COVID-19 changed that reality, especially when it comes to food and beverage choices.

With less than three days’ notice, casinos had to rethink how to feed thousands of people after Gov. Phil Murphy nixed plans to allow indoor dining to resume.

Forced to think outside the box — and outside the walls of their properties — casinos have used nearly every available inch of outdoor space to accommodate guests who are less concerned about coronavirus than where their next meal is coming from.

From expanded Boardwalk seating to food trucks to rooftop dining, Atlantic City casinos have found ways to make the best of a tough situation.

GALLERY: Outdoor dining at Atlantic City casinos

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which opened to the general public Sunday after being closed since March and opted to forgo reopening earlier this month because of the prohibition on indoor dining, has, arguably, the least amount of outdoor space of any of Atlantic City’s nine casinos.

Borgata spent the last three weeks fine tuning their food and beverage offerings, while their counterparts were reopening all across the city.

“We’re impressed with the food trucks and the seating they have outside,” said Tom Chaffee, of Youngstown, Ohio, who was poolside at the Borgata Beer Garden with his wife, Donna. “It’s the new normal.”

Food trucks were also a hit at Ocean Casino Resort, where Steve and Lorraine McMahon, of Whiting, Ocean County, were seated in beach chairs in the shade under the porte cochere enjoying cheeseburgers.

Not having to make a reservation, carry takeout through the casino to a hotel room or wait in long lines at the food trucks was a plus for the McMahons.

“This is wonderful,” Lorraine McMahon said in between bites. “Ocean has been the best ... very nice people, very good food.”

Down the Boardwalk, rooftop dining at Guy Fieri’s Chophouse atop Bally’s Atlantic City offers guests some of the best unobstructed views of the ocean in the entire city.

“As long as I’ve been hittin’ A.C., I’ve always loved the summer weather and gettin’ out there and hitting the beach and the Boardwalk,” Fieri said. “So, for me to be able to offer outdoor rooftop dining with the Chophouse and my BBQ Joint right on the beach, it’s a dream come true. We’re keepin’ it safe and makin’ it fun. Come see us.”

For the second time this month, Jamie Lee and Sydney Myer, of Philadelphia, were having a meal at Gordon Ramsay Steak “Under the Stars” beneath the tent on top of Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. The rooftop dining may be a different experience, they said, but one that was still worth it.

“They’re doing very well adapting to the outdoor dining,” Lee said. “I think it’s more that everybody else is trying to adapt to it.”

Myer said they learned from their last Atlantic City trip earlier this month to make restaurant reservations well in advance.

“If you’re walking up (most places) won’t take reservations or an hour to an hour-and-a-half is very commonplace,” he said. “That’s tough if you only have so much time in your vacation.”

Olga Rivera and Ann “Mac”, of the Bronx, New York, found out the hard way that reservations are difficult to come by in Atlantic City. After arriving Saturday night, the two ladies could not get a table at Kelsey’s on Pacific Avenue or get takeout from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.

They settled for pizza instead.

On Sunday, Rivera and “Mac” were able to enjoy a meal at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville on the Boardwalk outside Resorts Casino Hotel.

Afterward, they said the casinos may want to take a closer look at keeping the expanded al fresco options.

“I just think that there’s an opportunity to have more outdoor dining available,” Rivera said. “(The restaurants) should be able to accommodate the people that are visiting and have more outdoor dining experiences.”

GALLERY: Outdoor dining at Atlantic City casinos

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The Phillies' Monday night game against the New York Yankees is postponed

Three days after the start of a major league baseball season made life in a global pandemic seem a bit more normal, the Phillies find themselves at the center of a COVID-19 crisis that made things more chaotic than ever.

Major League Baseball postponed the Phillies scheduled game against the New York Yankees at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night because of virus concerns. Baseball also postponed the Miami Marlins' home opener Monday night against Baltimore Orioles for the same reason.

The Marlins are victims of a new coronavirus outbreak.

MLB does not name players who have tested positive for the virus, but several media sources reported Monday that 11 Miami players and two staff members have tested positive for the virus.

The Marlins wrapped up a three-game series in Philadelphia with an 11-6 win over the Phillies on Sunday. The Marlins postponed their flight home Sunday night as they quarantined in their Philadelphia hotel awaiting additional test results. Awaiting the outcomes of these tests forced baseball to postpone the two games. Ten other games were played as scheduled Monday.

No makeup dates have been announced for the postponed contests.

In a statement Monday morning, MLB said the games were postponed while additional COVID-19 tests are performed.

The first sign of the Marlins outbreak came when the team placed catcher Jorge Alfaro on the injured list without explanation Friday.

The situation escalated when Marlins pitcher Jose Urena was scratched from his scheduled start in Sunday's game about two hours before the first pitch. Two other Miami regular positions players — Garrett Cooper and Harold Ramirez — were also absent from Sunday’s lineup without explanation.

Several media sources then reported that Urena, Alfaro, Cooper and Ramirez had tested positive for COVID-19.

“The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these unchartered waters," Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, said in a statement. "After a successful Spring 2.0, we have now experienced challenges once we went on the road and left Miami. Postponing tonight’s home opener was the correct decision to ensure we take a collective pause and try to properly grasp the totality of this situation," the statement read. "We have conducted another round of testing for our players and staff, and our team will all remain in Philadelphia pending the results of those tests, which we expect later today. We will provide additional information as soon as it becomes available.”

The Phillies on Sunday morning sent a text to players warning them that a few Marlins had tested positive. The Phillies dealt with an outbreak of their own at their minor league training facility in Clearwater, Florida in June. Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he wasn’t aware of conversations about postponing Sunday’s game.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Phillies traveled to Citizens Bank Park on Monday for additional testing and then immediately returned home. The Phillies made no statement Monday.

“We’re always concerned,” Girardi said of the virus after Sunday’s game. “You see our guys take precautions on the field. When we do see players from the other team, it’s usually on the field and outside, and there’s usually a lot of distance. You hope that protects our club. The problem is when somebody gets it inside your clubhouse, is not aware of it for a day or two and then has the ability to spread it around. It sounds like that’s what happened (with the Marlins). We’re constantly reminding the guys, you have to be safe,” he said. “You can’t really have a lot of contact with other people because you put everybody in danger.”

A few Phillies did take extra precautions during Sunday's game. Bryce Harper wore a mask while running the bases, something he did not do Friday or Saturday.

“I think as a club, we do a great job of social distancing, wearing our masks and doing all things the right way,” Harper said. “We were all ready to play (Sunday). We weren’t too worried about it. They thought (wearing a mask on the base paths) would be a good idea just in case one of the (Marlins) hadn’t tested yet. I thought I’d do that.”

Monday night’s game was set to be the first of a four-game series between the Yankees and Phillies. Monday and Tuesday's games were scheduled for Philadelphia and Wednesday and Thursday's contests for New York.

The fate of those contests probably rests on the results of the tests the Phillies took Monday.

On July 26th, Atlantic City casinos are providing outside dining with beer gardens and food trucks as the new summer normal. Borgata Beer Garden.

Virus vaccine put to final test in thousands of volunteers

The world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine study got underway Monday with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers helping to test shots created by the U.S. government — one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race.

There’s still no guarantee that the experimental vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., will really protect.

The needed proof: Volunteers won’t know if they’re getting the real shot or a dummy version. After two doses, scientists will closely track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus still is spreading unchecked.

“Unfortunately for the United States of America, we have plenty of infections right now” to get that answer, NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told The Associated Press.

Moderna said the vaccination was done in Savannah, Georgia, the first site to get underway among more than seven dozen trial sites scattered around the country.

Several other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University earlier this month began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries.

But the U.S. requires its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country and has set a high bar: Every month through fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate — each one with 30,000 newly recruited volunteers.

The massive studies aren’t just to test if the shots work — they’re needed to check each potential vaccine’s safety. And following the same study rules will let scientists eventually compare all the shots.

Next up in August, the final study of the Oxford shot begins, followed by plans to test a candidate from Johnson & Johnson in September and Novavax in October — if all goes according to schedule. Pfizer Inc. plans its own 30,000-person study this summer.

That’s a stunning number of people needed to roll up their sleeves for science. But in recent weeks, more than 150,000 Americans filled out an online registry signaling interest, said Dr. Larry Corey, a virologist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle, who helps oversee the study sites.

“These trials need to be multigenerational, they need to be multiethnic, they need to reflect the diversity of the United States population,” Corey told a vaccine meeting last week. He stressed that it’s especially important to ensure enough Black and Hispanic participants as those populations are hard-hit by COVID-19.

It normally takes years to create a new vaccine from scratch, but scientists are setting speed records this time around, spurred by knowledge that vaccination is the world’s best hope against the pandemic.

The coronavirus wasn’t even known to exist before late December, and vaccine makers sprang into action Jan. 10 when China shared the virus’ genetic sequence.

Just 65 days later in March, the NIH-made vaccine was tested in people.

The first recipient is encouraging others to volunteer now.

“We all feel so helpless right now. There’s very little that we can do to combat this virus. And being able to participate in this trial has given me a sense of, that I’m doing something,” Jennifer Haller of Seattle told the AP. “Be prepared for a lot of questions from your friends and family about how it’s going, and a lot of thank-you’s.”

That first-stage study that included Haller and 44 others showed the shots revved up volunteers’ immune systems in ways scientists expect will be protective, with some minor side effects such as a brief fever, chills and pain at the injection site. Early testing of other leading candidates have had similarly encouraging results.

If everything goes right with the final studies, it still will take months for the first data to trickle in from the Moderna test, followed by the Oxford one.

Governments around the world are trying to stockpile millions of doses of those leading candidates so if and when regulators approve one or more vaccines, immunizations can begin immediately. But the first available doses will be rationed, presumably reserved for people at highest risk from the virus.

“We’re optimistic, cautiously optimistic” that the vaccine will work and that “toward the end of the year” there will be data to prove it, Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Massachusetts-based Moderna, told a House subcommittee last week.

Until then, Haller, the volunteer vaccinated back in March, wears a mask in public and takes the same distancing precautions advised for everyone — while hoping that one of the shots in the pipeline pans out.

“I don’t know what the chances are that this is the exact right vaccine. But thank goodness that there are so many others out there battling this right now,” she said.


AP photographer Ted Warren in Seattle contributed to this report.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.