Lakewood’s COVID-19 rate 9 times higher than NJ — Murphy reacts
Gov. Phil Murphy took his coronavirus briefing out of Trenton to one of the state's hot spots for COVID-19.
In Ocean County, Lakewood has seen a surge in coronavirus cases, giving it a positivity rate of 27% among those who have been tested. The statewide rate is 3%.
The fast-growing township is partly responsible for driving up the COVID-19 numbers in Ocean County, which had 190 new cases on Friday — the highest in the state and more than double the next highest county.
In the meeting held outdoors at Ocean County Airport in the Bayville section of Berkeley, Murphy said that the numbers in Lakewood and Ocean County are "deeply concerning" but that "no one is here to point fingers or to cast blame."
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said there is "not a single event" to blame for the spike but acknowledged there have been large religious observances that may have involved close contact.
"There was been reports of large gatherings, weddings, funerals where social distancing and wearing masks may not have been consistently followed," Persichilli said.
Most of the recent cases have been among those in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Lakewood Councilman Meir Lichtenstein told the governor that there was a meeting on Thursday of more than 100 rabbis in the township to discuss increased testing and to be vigilant about social distancing.
"In my synagogue we have four tents on four sides of the synagogue so people have more space. Wherever you go in Lakewood you see more tents popping up all over the place. It's not just the Sukkah for the holiday," Lichtenstein said.
Public and private schools are doing their parts to slow the spread of coronavirus in Lakewood.
Rabbi Avi Schnall, New Jersey director of the Agudath Israel of America, said the nearly 100 yeshivas, or private Jewish schools in Lakewood, are complying with social distancing protocols.
"My kid goes to school every morning. He can't get on the bus unless he has his mask," Schnall said.
Lakewood schools Superintendent Laura Winters said there are no plans to change the district's five-day education plan but said they are watching the numbers.
"As of Thursday since September 1 we have seven students and approximately ten teachers that have been COVID positive," Winters said, adding that a testing site at Lakewood High School will be opened next week.
State Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, said there is a large connection during the high holidays of Lakewood area residents to New York communities in Muncie and Brooklyn.
"There is a certain amount of travel back and forth," Singer said.
Murphy said that he would not force the entire county to quarantine because he believes that it is all "one New Jersey family" and it would not be practical or feasible.
The governor also had words of warning for the entire state and chided those he said are saying "reckless, irresponsible things" about the seriousness of the pandemic.
"Let there be no doubt what the facts are telling us. That we have a significant amount of cases and it's not just in Ocean County. It's up and down this state," Murphy said.
"We're still in the thick of the fight. And the basic stuff is all that we have in the absence of a therapeutic and the absence of a vaccine" like social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing, being tested.
"Folks we cannot let up. Enough of this reckless, irresponsible words and behavior. It is time to pin ourselves back down against the science, the data and the facts," Murphy said.
The Republican county's government was represented at the meeting by County Administrator Carl Block. Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronardy also did not attend but Murphy said that they had a "nice exchange" beforehand and that Mastronardy would be tuning in online.
Ocean County's Republican leaders have criticized Murphy's vote-by-mail plan for the November election as well as his lasting restrictions on indoor dining. In August, Freeholder Jack Kelly called Murphy a "left-wing socialist dictator."
Two hours before the meeting, the freeholders joined members of the Ocean County Shade Tree Commission and the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II with the planting of a tulip poplar tree in front of the historic Ocean County Courthouse in Toms River.