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The Wrap: Covid, Tourism, Weed, and More

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Get ‘The Wrap,’ our take on the news of the week, in your inbox every Monday. Sign up at https://bit.ly/HeraldWrap. Learn more about J. Byrne Insurance.
May 3-9:
Covid Numbers Continue Improving
The Cape May County Department of Health reported 99 new cases in the past week. Active cases this week fell by 15% and stand at 156. The county’s rate of transmission remains below the desired threshold of 1.0, at 0.79, according to Covid Act Now. 
The county May 9 reported four new cases, a daily count lower than any since September. The positive trend in the numbers comes as the county prepares for the official opening of an all-important summer.
Vaccinations grow, but the pace is slowing.
In the first week of April, county residents were receiving vaccine doses at an average of 850 per day from all sources. For the first week in May, that number was 376 per day. 
Despite a slower pace, fully vaccinated county residents increased to 42,582, up from 39,990 the prior week. To hit the goal of 70% of the adult population fully vaccinated, the county calculates it must fully vaccinate 53,280 individuals, meaning almost 11,000 individuals yet to go. 
The numbers suggest the goal could be achieved, even at this pace, sometime in early June, but that is only if the pace doesn’t continue to decline. 
The county is asking all 16 municipal mayors to urge those fearful, unsure, or even openly opposed to the vaccine to get the shots.
Variant Fears Continue
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts warn that a sizable pool of unvaccinated individuals creates an opportunity for the continued emergence of variants. 
The groups who are hesitant about or outright resist the vaccine could be the Achilles heel for the vaccination program if a variant develops that is not able to be handled by the current vaccines, experts warn.  
2020 Season Stronger Than Expected
State economic impact study shows season ended strong.
State data says tourism expenditures were down 21% in Cape May County, when comparing 2019 to 2020. That downturn was the smallest of any county in the state. 
The county recorded $5.4 billion in tourism expenditures last year, producing $1.5 million in local and state taxes per day. 
The early months of the 2020 season were devastating, but a state study shows a rebound began in June. July and August saw tourist expenditures almost as high as the record 2019 year. September and October broke previous records. A copy of the 56-page impact study is available for public access.
Legal Weed Remains a Problem
Uncertain what to do, towns just say no.
Three more county towns moved to prohibit smoking or ingesting marijuana in public spaces. Lower and Middle townships adopted ordinances, setting local penalties for violation of the ban.
Wildwood Crest introduced a similar ordinance and even went so far as to end any smoking of tobacco on municipal beaches. Stone Harbor went further yet, adopting an ordinance that bans the use of cannabis products in public spaces and also prohibits any cultivation, manufacture, or sale of recreational cannabis within the borough. 
The nature of the state statutes legalizing recreational weed may lead other municipalities to similar outright bans of all aspects of the new cannabis industry since those statutes will allow towns to relax their laws regarding cannabis, but they deny towns the ability to tighten restrictions for five years after Aug. 21.
Towns Await Stimulus Aid While Preparing for Summer
Budgets on Hold
The federal $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan contains just over $15 million that will be made available to Cape May County municipalities. The holdup is in knowing how the money can be used, so that it can be appropriately inserted into the 2021 budgets. 
The money will come in two parts, half this year and half in 2022. In some towns, this new aid, if its use is flexible enough, will mean the difference in decisions about local tax increases. 
Middle Township this past week introduced a 2021 budget, with a two-cent increase in the local tax rate. Township officials plan to amend that budget and reduce that tax increaseonce the state makes clear how the township’s $1.8 million in stimulus funds can be used. Upper Township continued to delay the adoption of its 2021 budget.
Memorial Day Nears
With three weeks to go before the official start of summer at the shore, county towns are busy getting beaches ready, closing out street work, training new seasonal hires, and supporting new businesses that are opening, often in spaces vacated by businesses that were casualties of the pandemic.
Cape May is, once again, looking at ways to increase parking. Stone Harbor is advertising new salaries for a large number of vacancies in its Public Works Department. 
Ocean City is implementing new bike regulations in the hopes they will help stem some emerging rowdy behavior by youth groups. The race to be ready is an annual affair that always seems to work out in the end.
And…
The New Jersey AARP declared the county “age-friendly,” recognition that should not come as too much of a surprise in a county with the highest median age in the state.
The county’s aggressive plans to replace or rejuvenate dozens of bridges received a boost in $3 million in grants for that purpose.
School programs prepare to provide free summer breakfast and lunch for those under 18 years old. The program is funded through federal grants.
A fire official was charged with filing a false hit-and-run report, a fourth-degree crime. 
Spout Off of the Week
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