Officials in New Jersey are battening down the hatches as the state's total of novel coronavirus cases increases daily by the hundreds.
Amid concerns over residents flocking to packed bars, house parties and generally flouting directions to avoid crowds, Governor Phil Murphy on Saturday ordered all non-essential businesses to close or conduct business remotely.
Garden State residents have been directed to stay indoors but to get food, medicine or for solitary exercise.
At a news conference Monday, state officials explained the extent to which they are going to flatten the COVID-19 curve and keep the pandemic within the capacity of state hospitals.
State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal noted that the stay-home order is not merely a suggestion; it has legal backing and law enforcement officials are prepared to issue citations or file criminal charges, depending on the infraction.
"The time for warnings is over, the time to ensure compliance is here," Grewal said.
Businesses could face an array of legal consequences for infractions; private residents could be hit with disorderly persons charges for organizing gatherings in spite of the order.
Officials are also on the lookout for bias incidents and price-gouging connected to the pandemic.
"There is a special place in hell for the people who take advantage of this health crisis," Murphy added. "Whether you're price-gouging or you view this as an excuse to pursue racist behavior or bullying behavior. There literally is no time for that in a normal time. And there sure as heck isn't time for it in the midst of a war that we're under."
Health officials reported more than 900 new COVID-19 cases in the state as of Monday afternoon, counting the total confirmed cases at 2,844 and 27 deaths so far.
Murphy noted that testing is still being expanded, so the rising numbers in and of themselves aren't cause for alarm. Officials have gleaned that there has been significant community spread of the virus already and it could be weeks before they have a clear picture.
By Monday morning, New Jersey opened two new by-appointment coronavirus testing sites with plans for several more.
Officials says certain low-level criminal offenders will be released from county jails in an effort to stop the coronavirus spread in the prison system. Those offenders will have to complete their sentences following the outbreak.
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