Toms River: Open Up Businesses Now

In Lakehurst, signs hang in the window of a salon, closed down since March due to the pandemic. (Photo by Jason Allentoff)

  TOMS RIVER – Bipartisan members of the governing body urged Gov. Phil Murphy to reopen small businesses now – with safeguards – instead of waiting any longer.

  Mayor Maurice Hill said that Toms River businesses have the drive and the ability to reopen in a safe manner, and they should be allowed to do so.

  The mayor said the township has suffered tragic losses, but shared specific numbers to put it in perspective.

  As of Memorial Day weekend, Toms River had 486 cases. Of those, 118 were residents in long-term care facilities. The remaining 368 lived in 302 addresses. In other words, more than one person tested positive in some households. This amounts to .5 percent of Toms River’s total population. If you don’t count those in long term care, it’s .4 percent.

  Unfortunately, there were 117 deaths in Toms River. Of those, 84 were in long-term care facilities. This means that there were 33 deaths among the general population.

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  Toms River’s population is greater than 90,000.

  “The governor is fond of saying ‘the data drives the dates,’” Hill said. This is why he shared Toms River’s data. Given these numbers, Toms River should be able to open up while still following safety regulations.

  He also wants more advanced warning from the state before regulations change. The statement might come out of Trenton in the evening and every town has to scramble for the next day to prepare for something new.

  He said he is worried about civil disobedience. Store owners might just decide to open in defiance of the state. Then local police will be put in the unfortunate position of dealing with that.

  Councilman Terrance Turnbach said that municipalities are in the best position to know what their people need and how to keep them safe because not every municipality is the same.

  “Everyone on the council is getting calls from small businesses wanting to be open. We don’t have the authority,” he said.

  “The time has come” to reopen, said Councilwoman Maria Maruca.

  There is guidance from associations, such as those that understand the restaurant industry, that are putting out guidelines on how businesses can operate in this new environment.

  One such blueprint for reopening can be found at restaurant.org/covid19

  Gov. Phil Murphy has said that Phase Two (out of four) of the reopening should begin on June 15. Phase Two has been described by the state has having restrictions relaxed on activities that can easily be safeguarded. Phased-in businesses may include:

  • Expanded retail
  • Safeguarded restaurants with outdoor seating
  • Limited personal care
  • Possibly indoor dining, museums, and libraries, all with significantly reduced capacity

  More work activities will be allowed at physical locations only if they adhere to safeguarding and modification guidelines. All workers who can work from home should continue to work from home.

  The governor’s office said that Murphy’s stages of reopening are based on level of disease transmission risk and how essential a business is.

  “Through our combined efforts, we have flattened the curve of COVID-19 cases, and we are well-positioned to continue our restart and recovery process,” Murphy said in a statement sent in response to questions for this article. “Our multi-stage approach uses science, data, and facts to determine which businesses and activities can reopen according to their risk level and challenges they face to safeguard public health. Additionally, we will be guided by our ability to protect against a new COVID-19 outbreak with expanded testing and contact tracing, and clear social distancing safeguards in place. We are currently in Stage 1, and we will aim to move through each stage quickly, but also judiciously, with the public health of our communities and all New Jerseyans in mind. We are also counting on all New Jerseyans to continue keeping themselves and their neighbors safe by wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, and limiting gatherings.”