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LIVE UPDATES: Gov. Phil Murphy announces Jersey Shore will be open for Memorial Day

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On May 8th, Beaches in Avalon and Stone Harbor as well as the Boardwalk in Wildwood were opened back up to the public for passive recreation. Wildwood Boardwalk was full of bikers and people out for a stroll.

Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday that beaches along the Jersey Shore will be open in time for Memorial Day, but Boardwalk restaurants must stick to delivery and take-out only.

Amusement parks, playgrounds and visitor centers will remain closed, Murphy said. 

“They Jersey Shore, after all, is where memories are made,” Murphy said. “The last thing any of us wanted was for a summertime down the shore to be a memory.”

The order goes into effect May 22, he said.

Cape May County Freeholder Leonard C. Desiderio, who is also mayor of Sea Isle City, said that officials will be “practicing” this Saturday on the beaches to study capacity of the beaches.

There will be restrictions on the amount of beachgoers on any beach or lakefront, Murphy said.

“Each of our shore and lake communities have unique characteristics and we know there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Murphy said. “However, some restrictions do fit across the board.”

Local municipal leaders must establish capacity limitations, enforce social distancing measures, prohibit contact sports and organized events and implement proper and regular sanitation, he said. Shower pavilions, changing areas and restrooms will be open at beaches, as well as restroom facilities at parks.

Boardwalk restaurants must stick to delivery and take-out only and amusement parks, playgrounds and visitor centers will remain closed, he said, “for the time being.”

“We could have a dramatically different reality a month from today,” Murphy said.

So far, Atlantic County has reported 1,666 cases with 104 deaths and 447 cleared as recovered. Cape May County has reported 483 cases with 38 deaths and 199 designated off quarantine. Cumberland County has reported 1,447 cases and 44 deaths.

Included in the totals are 64 additional positives and eight more fatalities that Atlantic County officials reported Thursday.

The deaths included three Hammonton residents, two men, ages 62 and 76, and a 58-year-old woman; two Galloway men, ages 87 and 93; two Northfield men, ages 67 and 94; and a 68-year-old Pleasantville man, all of whom had pre-existing health conditions, according to a news release from county spokeswoman Linda Gilmore. Seven of the eight were residents of long-term care facilities.

New positives were identified among 28 men, ages 20 to 63 and 36, women, ages 16 to 91, Gilmore said.

Twelve new cases were confirmed in Hammonton, 10 each in Galloway and Pleasantville and seven each in Atlantic City and Egg Harbor Township, according to the release. Absecon had four new positives while Hamilton Township and Ventnor each had three. Buena Vista Township and Linwood had two confirmations and Egg Harbor City, Margate, Northfield and Somers Point all had one.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

A 91-year-old Lower Township man died as the results of COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release Thursday by Cape May County's Department of Health.

In Cape May County, the number of deaths now stands at 39, the health department said.

The health department reports 488 people have tested positive for COVID-19, out of the more than 142,704 confirmed cases in the state, which include 9,946 deaths.

Five new cases were confirmed in the county on Thursday, according to the health department.

Two of the cases were in Middle Township, and one each were in Dennis Township, Ocean City and Woodbine, the health department said.

"Our thought and prayers are with the family and friends as we grieve their loss," said Cape May County Freeholder Gerald Thornton in a statement. "Please accept our deepest condolences for your loss."

In the county, there are 126 active COVID-19 cases, and 199 people are off quarantine, the health department said.

There are 124 long-term care, active cases, and there have been 30 long-term care deaths, the health department said.

The state Assembly on Thursday voted to approve a measure to support projects in the construction, real estate and banking sectors impacted bu the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2008, New Jersey enacted the Permit Extension Act to revive and extend government approvals so that the projects would not be abandoned, according to a news release.

In anticipation that these industries will face similar challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, the full Assembly voted 78-0 on Thursday to approve a measure (A-3919) to amend the Permit Extension Act to extend State, regional, county and municipal agency permits for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. Government approvals granted after March 9, 2020 would be eligible, according to the release.

The bill’s sponsors, Assembly Democrats Clinton Calabrese (D-Bergen, Passaic), William Spearman (Camden, Gloucester) and Carol Murphy (D-Burlington, Camden), released the following joint statement:

“In taking necessary steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 - steps that have undoubtedly saved lives in New Jersey - much business and government activity has been placed on hold. Most construction and real estate projects that were approved a short time ago have needed to cease operations. If their permits expire, we aren't sure when government agencies will be in a position to issue new permits.

“We don’t want to see projects abandoned or resources wasted because of issues with expired permits, particularly when the circumstances are out of the permit holder’s control. As we work toward recovery, we want to put businesses in the best position possible to finish the projects they began.”

The measure now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

Cape May City Manager Jerome Inderweis Jr. announced Thursday that all metered parking within the city will resume at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 16.

City of Cape May Resolution No. 134-04-2020 allowed the suspension of metered parking indefinitely and left its resumption to the discretion of the city manager.

Assembly Democrats Carol Murphy, Annette Chaparro and Raj Mukherji sponsored a bill to extend eligibility for accidental disability and death benefits to certain first responders who contract the disease, according to a news release. The legislation unanimously passed the full Assembly Thursday.

Law enforcement officers, state troopers, firefighters and emergency medical responders enrolled in one of the three retirement systems associated with these professions are eligible for accidental disability benefits if they sustain a permanent and total disability resulting from a traumatic event that occurred on the job, according to the release. Similarly, their named beneficiaries are eligible for accidental death benefits if they lose their lives in the line of duty.

The bill (A-3945) would extend eligibility for these benefits to first responders who become disabled or die as a result of their exposure to COVID-19, as long as their job involved interacting with the public or supervising other personnel who interacted with the public during the COVID-19 public health emergency and state of emergency. Proof that the first responder 'more likely than not' contracted the disease in the line of duty would no longer be required, according to the release.

The legislation would retroactively cover applicable circumstances that took place between March 9, 2020 and the end date of the emergency.

Upon the bill passing the Assembly, Assemblywoman Murphy (D-Burlington), along with Assemblywoman Chaparro and Assemblyman Mukherji (both D-Hudson) released the following joint statement:

"Our first responders are courageously putting their own lives on the line to keep our communities safe during this crisis. Every time they respond to distress calls to help prevent unlawful activity, put out fires or administer care to people experiencing medical emergencies, they run the risk of contracting COVID-19 from the very people they're helping.

"So many of our firefighters, police and EMS responders have already been infected with COVID-19, and not all of them survived their encounter with this deadly virus.

"After tragically losing a family member, grieving families should not be expected to somehow prove their loved one most likely contracted the virus on the job. It is our duty to honor their loved one's sacrifice by making sure these families receive the benefits they need without placing the burden of proof on their shoulders.

"Similarly, any first responder whose illness has significantly and permanently affected their health and functionality should be secure in the knowledge that they'll be taken care of through the accidental disability benefits they deserve.

"New Jersey owes debt of gratitude to each and every one of these brave residents protecting our communities under these challenging and unprecedented circumstances. Providing these benefits is one way we can thank them for all they have been doing - and continue to do - for our state."

Nearly 70,000 new unemployment claims were filed across the state last week, officials said Thursday, as the state Labor Department processed another 262,000 weeks worth of federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, and saw total pandemic-related payments rise to $2.7 billion.

The number of initial claims filed since mid-March approached 1.1 million, with more than 725,000 actively collecting state and federal PUA benefits, according to a news release from the state DOL. Data shows workers in casinos, retail, food service, restaurants and airlines hit the hardest by the pandemic.

PUA is a new federal program authorized by Congress as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, which provides benefits not just to newly eligible populations such as self-employed workers, independent contractors or those who do not have enough recent earnings to qualify for regular unemployment benefits, but also for newly qualifying reasons such as being unable to work because due to caring for others or for their own COVID-19 illness, according to the release.

“The USDOL has strict rules in place that we must follow when handling a claim in order to prevent fraud. Unfortunately, this also can lengthen the time it takes for claimants to receive benefits,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “We are doing everything we can, working within federal guidelines, to get benefits to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. We can only do so much without jeopardizing billions of dollars of funding for the new federal benefits programs, like PUA, and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, the $600 weekly supplement.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said he will announce guidance on beaches effective Memorial Day weekend during Thursday's 1 p.m. briefing, according to News12.

Emergency food distribution will take place for Atlantic City residents and unemployed casino workers from the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino, Ocean Casino Resort and Resorts Casino Hotel from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at Bader Field in Atlantic City.

Interested participants need to pre-register at: Distribution will be drive-up only on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Registration does not guarantee food pick up due to limited quantities. Registration is capped at 2,250, according to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

The invitation is extended to those who do not have funds to shop at a grocery store and do not have access to a local food pantry.

There will be one allocation of food items per car. Participants should come with either a hospitality industry identification or Atlantic City proof of residence.

Vineland's Delsea Drive-In is set to opening May 22, according to The Daily Journal.

The historic drive-in, dating back to 1949, was set to open with a double-feature on March 20, but that was scrapped when Murphy ordered entertainment venues, including theaters, closed to try to quell the spread of COVID-19, according to the outlet.

In a post on the city;s Facebook page, city Mayor Anthony Fanucci said that he welcomed Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order.

“This is a reasonable first step, which is in line with what I have been encouraging the Governor to do, that will allow some of our businesses to begin limited operations with appropriate social distancing practices,” Fanucci said. “I have had several ongoing conversations with his office on behalf of our small businesses, conveying their willingness to be adaptable in their operations in order to protect both customers and staff as we slowly restart economic activity. A perfect example was the no contact operational plan the Drive-in was able to present.”

“Vineland residents and businesses have acted very responsibly and courteously during these trying times," Fanucci said. "But we must maintain our vigilance as emergency measures are eased in the coming days and weeks. This, coupled with the expanded testing and robust contact tracing program the Governor has outlined, will help catch and contain the virus until a vaccine can be found."

The Lower Township Battle of the Badges Red Cross Blood Drive Thursday is scheduled from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 4.

The blood drive is in honor of Officer Kenny Walker, and will be held at the Villas Volunteer Fire Department‎ Hall, 1619 Bayshore Road.

Walker is 25-year-old township police officer who is currently fighting Leukemia.

Lower Township Mayor Frank Sippel said Wednesday that officials have extended the ban on short-term rentals until the end of June.

“This was not an easy decision for members of Council, but I do believe it was the correct decision,” Sippel said in a letter to residents. “Since the start of this pandemic, the health and safety of our residents is and will always be our number one priority.”

All township parks will open Thursday, he said.

“However, even though the parks are open, you will still see a few restrictions posted in the parks,” he said. “These restrictions are only set in place to protect the public and follow the social distancing mandate from the Governor’s office.”

Six Flags announced it will reopen its Safari as a self-drive-through experience.

The Jackson amusement park opened the self-drive-through Safari in 1974, but switched to guided truck tours in 2013.

"Returning to a standalone, drive-through format enables guests to enjoy the Safari's 1,200 exotic animals from the privacy and safety of their own vehicles, while allowing for proper social distancing," said the release from Six Flags Communications Manager Kristin Fitzgerald.

The park is also finalizing new safety procedures to protect guests, team members and animals, the release added.

To prevent overcrowding, entry into the Safari will require advance registration. Members, season pass holders and single-day ticket holders can make reservations at once the opening date is confirmed.

State officials scheduled a 1 p.m. briefing Thursday to update residents on the spread of COVID-19.

Appearing for the briefing will be Governor Phil Murphy, Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan, State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan, and Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo.

So far, Atlantic County has reported 1,666 cases with 104 deaths and 447 cleared as recovered. Cape May County has reported 483 cases with 38 deaths and 199 designated off quarantine. Cumberland County has reported 1,447 cases and 44 deaths.

Source: State of New Jersey Department of Health

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Murphy said that the number of positive cases had increased by 1,028, bringing the total to 141,560. There have been 197 additional deaths, bringing the state total to 9,702.

Wondering which beaches and boardwalks are open in South Jersey? Here's a list.

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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