COVID-19 update: Starting tonight, face masks must be worn in food markets

Newton /
| 10 Apr 2020 | 05:42

Essential businesses throughout New Jersey must implement safety measures for their workers and customers starting at 8 p.m. tonight, according to Gov. Phil Murphy.

The new requirements issued by Gov. Phil Murphy and locally by the Sussex County Department of Health and Human Services apply to food markets, grocery stores, liquor stores, and food establishments offering take-out, curbside service, and delivery. They are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Food markets must limit occupancy to 50 percent of the maximum store capacity. They must also establish hours that permit access solely to high-risk people, and block customers who are not wearing a mask from entering the store.

Essential businesses must also take the following steps:

● Install a physical barrier, such as a shield guard between customers and cashiers and baggers wherever feasible or otherwise ensure six feet of distance between those individuals, except at the moment of payment and/or exchange of goods.

● Require infection-control practices, such as regular hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, and proper tissue usage and disposal.

● Provide employees break time for repeated handwashing throughout the workday.

● Arrange for contactless pay options, pickup, and delivery of goods wherever feasible, and also consider customers without internet access.

● Provide sanitization materials, such as hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, to staff and customers.

● Require frequent sanitization of high-touch areas like restrooms, credit card machines, keypads, counters and shopping carts.

● Place conspicuous signage at entrances and throughout the store alerting staff and customers to the required six feet of physical distance.

● Demarcate six feet of spacing in check-out lines to demonstrate appropriate spacing for social distancing.

● Require workers and customers to wear cloth face coverings while on the premises, except where doing so would inhibit that individual’s health or where the individual is under two years of age, and require workers to wear gloves when in contact with customers or goods.

● Provide, at their expense, face coverings and gloves for their employees. If a customer refuses to wear a cloth face covering for non-medical reasons and if the covering cannot be provided to the customer by the business at the point of entry, then the business must decline entry to the customer and provide alternate methods of pickup or delivery of food and medication.

● If a customer declines to wear a face covering because of a medical condition that inhibits such usage, the business will not require that the customer produce documentation verifying their condition.

How to make a mask

Cloth face masks can be made at no or low cost from common household items. They should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction, and be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to its shape.

To see a video from the U.S. Surgeon General on how to make a cloth face mask at home, and for specific recommendations and safety considerations regarding the use of cloth face masks, visit

Assembly members want to prohibit reusable bags

New Jersey Assemblymen John DiMaio and Hal Wirths are introducing legislation to prohibit reusable carryout bags in grocery stores during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

“Reusable bags, just like any purchases that are brought home and then back to the store, could be contaminated with the coronavirus and we just can’t risk it," said DiMaio (R-Somerset, Warren, Hunterdon).

He noted that the governor signed a bill in March that bans stores from accepting returns of groceries and other purchases during, and for 30 days following, a state of emergency declared in response to COVID-19.

“Some grocery stores have already banned reusable bags during this time because they wanted to limit exposure to germs and viruses coming from the outside,” said Wirths (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris). “We need this legislation to override single-use bag bans in municipalities that may not be considering the health consequences for their customers. It also gives stores a tool to stop the spread of germs from reusable bags.”

The Assembly members cited a 2011 study from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University that found bacteria in 99 percent of the reusable bags they tested.

Some officials want parks reopened

New Jersey Senator Steve Oroho and Assembly members Parker Space and Hal Wirths (all R-Sussex, Warren, Morris) called upon Gov. Murphy to reopen the outdoor portions of New Jersey’s state parks and forests.

Gov. Murphy this week closed all state and county parks because people were congregating in them in violation of social distancing rules.

"Taxpayers paid for State parks and forests like Worthington State Forest," said Oroho. “Closing the state parks and forests in all parts of the state suspends a vital outlet for many in New Jersey to recreate and maintain safe social distancing and a healthy lifestyle – both mentally and physically, The residents in our district have been responsible and compliant with the Governor’s order. Why punish the whole state for a few ‘knuckleheads’?”

Space noted the opening of trout season in New Jersey on April 11.

"We are shutting down prime fishing locations that already have been stocked," he said. "This makes no sense and is a waste of resources."

Space said law enforcement should have been given better direction and better tools to implement social distancing in parks and forests.

“We could have better monitoring in place and the legal authority to restrict out-of-state visitors," Space said. "Our beautiful open space should remain open for those who foot the citizens who foot the bill.”

Wirths said the park closures are "making the problem worse by pushing people into close quarters outdoors on streets and sidewalks verses the vast open spaces which our parks provide."

Space as Wantage Township Mayor and Wirths as Sussex County Freeholder Director vehemently opposed former Gov. Corzine’s plan to close High Point.

“Governors messing with state parks don’t have a great track record," Wirths said. "Jim Florio wanted to close Parvin State Park in Salem County and Jon Corzine wanted to close nine state parks including High Point."

Deaths in Sussex County up 65% in a week

There have been 20 deaths related in COVID-19 in Sussex County, including five each in Andover and Newton, four in Sparta, two in Newton, and one each in Byram, Frankford, Hampton, Hopatcong. Thirteen of those deaths were reported in the last week.

As of Thursday, April 9, the Sussex County Division of Health was notified of 35 additional cases of COVID-19 among county residents, bringing the total to 390.

Muncipalities with reported cases and the numbers are as follows: Andover Borough (2), Andover Township (62), Branchville Borough (3), Byram Township (17), Frankford Township (18), Franklin Borough (15), Fredon Township (7), Green Township (4), Hamburg Borough (10), Hampton Township (8), Hardyston Township (19), Hopatcong Borough (43), Lafayette Township (3), Montague Township (6), Newton Town (40), Ogdensburg Borough (6), Sandyston Township (2), Sparta Township (54), Stanhope Borough (9), Stillwater Township (0), Sussex Borough (5), Vernon Township (34), Walpack Township (0), and Wantage Township (23).

Residents can also call the Sussex County Division of Health COVID-19 hotline at 973-579-9488 to speak with a Division of Health staff member or Sussex County Medical Reserve Corp volunteer. The hotline’s hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The New Jersey Poison Control Center and 2-1-1 have partnered with the State to provide information to the public on COVID-19. Residents may call 2-1-1 or 1-800-962-1253 or text NJCOVID to 898-211.

Zufall Health Center to get federal money

Zufall Health Center locations in Newton and Hackettstown will receive federal investment from the bipartisan CARES Act rescue and relief package to support their ongoing work in telehealth, COVID-19 testing for health care workers and first responders, and community care, announced U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5).

Zufall will receive $1.7 million in federal investment from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Both Sussex and Warren qualify for hundreds of millions of dollars in direct relief and support — including dollars that are literally going out the door this week," said Gottheimer.

Eva Turbiner, president and chief executive officer of Zufall Health Center, said the business was faced with "sudden, decreasing revenue, reduced staff, and the vastly increased costs."

Zufall is a not-for-profit health center that helps support vulnerable New Jersey populations, those whose incomes fall below the federal poverty guidelines, the uninsured, and Medicaid and Medicare recipients.

"We are especially grateful that these funds will make sure that we will be here for the underserved communities of color who are suffering disproportionately during this pandemic,” said Turbiner.

Quarantine housing sought

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (N.J.-09) on April 9 led the New Jersey congressional delegation in urging the Trump administration to approve the state’s request for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund quarantined sheltering for COVID-19 patients and frontline healthcare workers.

The said private living quarters, rather than group settings, would allow individuals and families to safety isolate, thus reducing the exposure and spread of coronavirus, and take pressure off local hospitals.

New Jersey has the second highest number of cases in the nation, over 51,000, and 1,700 deaths. The state is not expected to reach its peak until later this month.

“Essential workers on the front line, such as healthcare providers and emergency first responders along with vulnerable populations like those experiencing homelessness, are at high risk of being infected with COVID-19,” the delegation wrote in a letter to President Trump. “Absent a non-congregate sheltering program, these individuals can strain hospital resources essential to saving lives and potentially expose others in their homes and communities to the dangers of this virus. It is essential to establish a non-congregate housing program in our state to make more hospital space available and reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

The letter was cosigned by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Reps. Donald Norcross (N.J.-01), Jeff Van Drew (N.J.-02), Andy Kim (N.J.-03), Chris Smith (N.J.-04), Josh Gottheimer (N.J.-05), Frank Pallone, Jr. (N.J.-06), Tom Malinowski (N.J.-07), Albio Sires (N.J.-08), Donald Payne (N.J.-10), Mikie Sherrill (N.J.-11) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.-12).

Earlier this week, Sens. Menendez and Booker announced over $26 million in FEMA public assistance grants to the New Jersey State Police to aid first responders on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight.

Menendez has led bipartisan requests from both the New Jersey congressional delegation and 23 of his Senate colleagues calling on President Trump to eliminate the local cost-sharing for FEMA disaster grants, which would allow the state to recoup the full $34,847,548.37.

Spring sports depend on school reopening

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association says it wants to provide New Jersey’s student-athletes with some type of spring season:

“Along with our leagues and conferences, NJSIAA has determined and communicated with member schools that if competitive events are possible, they will conclude no later than June 30. Various models have been established based on potential return dates that range from mid-May to the end of that month, and leagues and conferences will be given substantial scheduling flexibility."

The return-to-school date and public health guidelines will continue to determine the shape of the spring sports season, says NJSIAA.

Depending on the eventual date of return, a modified tournament may be offered, subject to availability of venues and ability to comply with any health-related restrictions that may still be in effect.

Post-season play could range from a sectional tournament to only regular season play without a post-season, the association says. All sports, except golf, would be subject to a six-day, mandatory practice period.

Menendez seeks housing assistance

Sen. Menendez said he will introduce a bill to create new $75 billion Housing Assistance Fund to keep New Jersey families in their homes.

Ranked #1 in the nation for foreclosures, New Jersey could face new wave due to COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout, Menendez said. Although the state's foreclosure rate has dropped as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession and Superstorm Sandy, it remains highest in the nation.

‘We can’t afford to sit back and wait to act until our families are underwater, wiped-out or out on the street," he said.

Gov. Murphy said direct federal support, in the form of a housing assistance fund, could be a "game changer," providing homeowners without a stable income much-needed relief.

Gottheimer: Make room for medical students

U.S. Representatives Gottheimer and Pascrell, Jr. asked that more graduate medical education slots for hospitals be included in the forthcoming coronavirus economic relief package. They said increasing graduate medical education slots would alleviate the staffing burden that has plagued New Jersey’s hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, there is an arbitrary cap on hospital graduate medical education slots. The representatives called this called calculation outdated, with New Jersey medical programs lacking the slots to train as many physicians as possible here.

"North Jersey's brave front-line medical workers are fighting incredibly hard to get our community through this outbreak and to keep our residents safe and protected," said Gottheimer. "It is because of their vital work that we will make it through this crisis. Increasing our hospitals' graduate medical slots will not only make sure they have what they need now, but that our hospitals are prepared for the next health crisis too."

Primary is moving to July

(AP) New Jersey's June 2 primary is moving to July 7 because of the coronavirus outbreak under an executive order Gov. Murphy signed on April 8.

Murphy said the extra time will give officials a chance to evaluate whether the state needs to go to an all-mail election, which he noted has never been done before. He said the possibility of a mail-in only election for the primary was on the table.

"Our democracy cannot be a casualty of COVID-19. We want to ensure that every voter can vote without endangering their health or their safety," said Murphy.

Murphy specifically pointed to the election in Wisconsin that was held Tuesday despite the governor's efforts to delay it. The state's Supreme Court disagreed with delaying the election.

New Jersey shouldn't become Wisconsin "where folks had to pick between exercising their right to vote on the one hand and protecting their personal health,`` Murphy said.

Some construction halted

(AP) Nonessential construction in the state must shut down, the governor said. Murphy said he would sign an order halting some construction projects. Some raised concerns that construction workers were risking exposure to the virus for nonessential projects, like bathroom makeovers.

Weight limits imposed on trucks

(AP) Semi trucks carrying health care equipment may transport up to 46 tons under an order the governor signed on April 8. That's up from a 40 ton limit on highways previously.

New field hospital in Edison

(AP) Murphy and other state and military officials toured the state's second and biggest field hospital on April 8.

The 500-bed facility in Edison at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center is double the size of another field hospital opened recently in Secaucus and has 250 beds.

The field hospitals are expected to serve only non-coronavirus patients, taking pressure off other facilities so they can address those with COVID-19, according to the governor.

Another facility is expected to open in Atlantic City.

NJ Transit death

(AP) New Jersey Transit has reported its first death from COVID-19.

Conductor Joe Hansen was 62 and had worked for the agency for more than 20 years, most recently on the Raritan Valley Line.

Eighty-seven NJ Transit employees had tested positive for the coronavirus, including 57 who work operating trains or buses or cleaning stations, the agency said Tuesday.

More than 500 employees were quarantining as they awaited test results, President and CEO Kevin Corbett said. NJ Transit has approximately 12,000 employees.