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Reopen Jersey Shore on May 15, says Stockton finance professor Michael Busler
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Reopen Jersey Shore on May 15, says Stockton finance professor Michael Busler

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On May 27th 2019, in Atlantic City, people enjoying their holiday weekend begin to pack up and head home. Atlantic City Boardwalk.

Once the coronavirus was determined to be a pandemic, government officials decided to close nearly the entire economy to avoid the virus affecting tens of millions of people. Instead of an initially projected potential of up to 2 million fatalities nationwide, the current estimate is about 60,000.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 107 on March 21 that directed all residents to stay at home until further notice. He did allow for exceptions for workers employed in essential goods and services businesses. At the time, New York City was experiencing a large number of coronavirus cases. The disease had also spread to northern New Jersey.

Nearly every other state issued a similar order. These orders appear to have slowed the growth of the disease. Today, in almost every part of the country, the number of new cases per day is declining. The New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area accounts for more than 40% of the cases nationwide.

Now that the state’s economy has been shut for more than a month, the question is, when do we allow the economy to re-open?

Everyone wants the economy to open sooner rather than later. In New Jersey nearly 600,000 workers have become unemployed in the past three weeks. Stores, shopping malls, recreation and sporting events as well as schools and colleges have been shut down, causing tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

This hurts small businesses, their employees and the government itself. It is clear we need to get back to normal as soon as possible. According to some Rutgers University researchers, new and very efficient tests have been developed and will shortly be readily available. Still Gov. Murphy says the reopening of the state is weeks away.

That may be true for northern New Jersey, which because of high population density and the close proximity to New York City continues to see large numbers of new cases. But South Jersey is not North Jersey. That’s particularly true of Atlantic and Cape May counties.

As of Friday there were fewer than 800 confirmed cases in those counties and less than 50 fatalities. Likely because of the lower population density and perhaps because of the climate, those numbers are probably going to stay lower than in the north. I think this means the shore area can and should reopen by May 15.

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To be fair, Gov. Murphy has to make a very difficult decision. If he opens even part of the state’s economy too late, the economic consequences would be devasting. If he opens too early, a resurgence of the disease could occur, which would increase fatalities and result in another shut down. President Trump said that decision was “the biggest of my life.”

A May 15 opening for Atlantic and Cape May counties seems to be a reasonable compromise. By then, much more testing should be available to detect the virus and to detect antibodies in people who have had the virus, recovered and are now healthy. Some people may not have even known they had the virus.

Additionally, newly released information suggests that the virus in saliva droplets cannot live for more than a few minutes when the temperature is above 75 degrees, the humidity is above 80% and there is direct sunlight. That’s a daily occurrence at the southern New Jersey shore after May 15.

Waiting past May 15 would mean the resort area misses the Memorial Day weekend, which comes very early this year. The weekend starts on Friday, May 22, and runs until Memorial Day on Monday, May 22. Opening on May 15 would give resort businesses, especially casinos, one week to ramp back up.

Waiting past that deadline would force some businesses to permanently close. The Memorial Day weekend is a big revenue generator for the southern New Jersey shore. Businesses have already missed the Easter weekend and they missed or will miss the increase in activity that is normally seen in April and May.

Waiting until June 1 to open would be devasting. It is possible that many small businesses would close permanently. Perhaps one or two casinos would close.

Gov. Murphy should open Atlantic and Cape May counties on May 15.

Michael Busler, of Ventnor, is professor of finance and finance program coordinator at Stockton University.

What is Gov. Murphy's 6-point plan to reopen New Jersey? 

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