New Jersey parks, golf courses opening, but keep distance, Gov. Murphy says

TRENTON, New Jersey -- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will meet with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday to discuss the coronavirus response efforts.

The meeting will be held in the Oval Office at 11 a.m.

The meeting comes as Murphy announces that New Jersey's parks and golf courses, shuttered because of the virus outbreak, will reopen at sunrise on Saturday.

Murphy announced the change at a news conference on the COVID-19 outbreak. The new executive order came amid intense pressure to reopen parks, including from political rivals as well as allies. Murphy acknowledged the pressure campaign to reopen parks but said it played no part in his decision.

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he will sign an executive order that will reopen state parks and golf courses.



"Your interventions to me did not matter one bit," he said. Instead, he said he was considering some positive data surrounding the outbreak, including the declining hospitalization rate.

Murphy ordered parks closed April 7 after he said there were too many people congregating and failing to socially distance. Golf courses were considered nonessential businesses, which have been closed since March.

There will be a few conditions placed on reopening: parking lots at parks and courses must be capped at 50% capacity; playgrounds and restrooms at parks will be closed; picnics and other gatherings will not be permitted, according to the governor.

"I'm happy at one level that we're able to take this step, but we will enforce this," Murphy said.

Social distancing rules still apply.

"I think people are adults and they can act like adults and they can social distance. It's about time," said Joseph Valotta of Collingswood.

James Jeter of Maple Shade said, "I don't wanna take anything for granted, you know, or be too lax and fall back in. We're still not out of the clear yet."

Suzy Offenbacker of Collingswood said, "I think we're meant to be together as people, but I think we can be smart about it."

Camden County Freeholder Jeff Nash says park rules will be enforced but they'll need the public's help.

"We have ambassadors which enforce the rules in each of our parks. We're asking people to be responsible but if they need a reminder we'll have people out here to do that," said Nash.

A look at other developments:

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THE FIGURES

An additional nearly 2,500 positive cases were identified overnight, bringing the statewide total to 116,000. The death toll climbed by 329 to 6,770.

The total number of people hospitalized for coronavirus was about 6,300, down from around 8,000 about a week ago. Discharges from hospitals also continued to outpace new hospitalizations.

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MOVING SOUTH

The number of new cases is dropping slightly in the north and staying roughly level in the central part of the state, but the south is seeing an increase in cases, Murphy said.

The good news, according to the governor, is that the overall number of cases is lower in the southern part of the state.

The number of days it takes for cases to double now tops 30 days in some of the hardest-hit northern counties, while southern counties are seeing cases double much more quickly, in about nine days in some places.

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CASINO-HOSPITAL ALLIANCE

Atlantic City's casinos are teaming up with a hospital system to consult on protocols and best practices regarding the coronavirus before the casinos reopen.

No date has been set thus far for the nine casinos to reopen. But The Casino Association of New Jersey said Wednesday it is working with AtlantiCare to share information on the virus and make recommendations, including lessons the health care system has learned in its own hospitals.

Neither side gave specifics about things the casinos will do to protect guests and workers from the virus, but casino executives across the country are considering various measures including having everyone wear masks, staggering slot machines, more frequent cleaning, and possibly using plexiglass barriers to enforce separation on the casino floor.

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ABOUT THE VIRUS

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

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