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Reopening Starts in Earnest

Reopening Starts in Earnest

By Vince Conti

To access the Herald’s local coronavirus/COVID-19 coverage, click here.
COURT HOUSE – This past week, the move to reopen the county began to gain steam.
The county’s Recovery Initiative Task Force submitted a plan for a phased restart of the region’s tourism-based economy. Citing the unique vulnerability of the county’s seasonal economy, describing what it termed a “mild outbreak” of COVID-19, and including a set of mitigation protocols that it claimed could safely substitute for stay-at-home restrictions, the county’s plan sought a “ramp” to its core July/August summer season.
On the same day, the county’s plan proceeded north.
The county’s namesake resort, Cape May, relaxed its earlier total restriction on short-term rentals, allowing a capacity-controlled opening of lodging facilities with a schedule that was identical to that proposed in the county plan.
Beaches began to reopen across the county, with limitations on their use and expectations of social distancing. Strolling the Wildwood Boardwalk and the Cape May Promenade was permitted again. Seasonal visitors were allowed back into campgrounds.
Gov. Phil Murphy already opened parks and golf courses. In his May 11 daily news briefing on the spread of the coronavirus, the governor promised “hard dates” later in the week concerning relaxing other restrictions.
County and municipal officials can work at the periphery of the lockdown of the economy, but the power over many of the measures rests squarely with the governor.
Almost eight weeks after Murphy issued Executive Order 107, imposing stay-at-home regulations, closing non-essential businesses, and keeping the lid on gatherings, the pressure to lift the restrictions was building this week. The desire for, even the need for, some return to “normalcy” was high.
Certain restrictions will not be lifted. Schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year, adding child care issues to already complex reopening strategies.
Murphy has emphasized the need for expansive testing capacity, robust contact tracing, and safe isolation as key to successful reopening. He points to 9,310 state residents who have succumbed to the virus.
Promises about testing and contact tracing are included in the county’s reopening plan. The county promises not “to be a passive observer in this important aspect of the reopening and recovery process.” 
In one study concerning the requirements for a safe reopening, the Harvard Global Health Institute projects a need in New Jersey for testing on a scale that the state has not yet come close to achieving.
All agree that testing is crucial to the reopening. The scale the testing will achieve is not something the public has seen information about.
Some are expressing deep concern that the press to restart the summer season is happening too fast. Others argue they face economic devastation if the entire summer season is lost.  The county says the reopening will be “guided by health care data.” The county plan proposes that special care is needed for the most vulnerable, but adds that “for most people who contract the disease, it is unlikely they will face hospitalization or the risk of dying.” For many who support reopening, the risk of economic catastrophe is the more certain one.
The situation can change, but the actions of the past week make some form of a restart of the county’s economy likely and to happen soon.
As of May 12, the county reports 470 total cases since a 32-year-old New York resident visited Cape May County and became the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the county March 18. Also as of May 12, 198 of those 470 individuals have recovered sufficiently to be removed from quarantine. The virus has claimed 34 lives in the county since the first death was reported April 4. Active confirmed cases of the virus in the county number 238, with 128 of those located in long-term care facilities that have claimed the majority of the dead.
Those are the numbers as the county starts a new week and continues the protocol-driven opening of the county. How our plans will measure against the coronavirus will not depend on political debate or hope. It will be evident in another paragraph of numbers a few weeks down the road.
To contact Vince Conti, email vconti@cmcherald.com.
ED. NOTE: See the Herald website for daily COVID-19 updates and related coverage.

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