New Jersey is on the verge of shutting down all non-essential businesses this weekend as hospitals expect a crushing surge of patients seeking treatment for COVID-19.

Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday that he expects to make the announcement about closing businesses sometime on Saturday as part of his plan to "tighten the screws" and slow the spread of the devastating novel coronavirus.

"We have no choice," he said.

Murphy on Thursday ordered the closure of hair salons and tattoo parlors. Schools and malls were closed earlier in the week. Restaurants have been ordered to provide take-out or delivery only.

Murphy also said that the current 50-person limit on gatherings — which a week ago had been at 250 — could be lowered to 10 or even zero.

The closures and disruptions could last weeks, Murphy said.

The state on Friday recorded two more deaths, for a total of eleven. The latest deaths were of a 37-year-old man from Essex County and 52-year-old man from Bergen County. Both had underlying health conditions as well.

The state added 155 positive cases overnight, for a total of 890 so far.

State health officials expect this number to rise dramatically as testing becomes more widespread. Two companies based in New Jersey — BioReference Laboratories and LabCorp — each expect to process 20,000 tests every day across the nation.

"The numbers will go into the many thousands, we have been predicting that for some time," Murphy said, adding that the information is welcome because it allows officials to track the virus.

The most cases are in Bergen County, where 56 out of 70 municipalities have at least one case.

"The people of New Jersey have to stay home," Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco said Friday during a news conference with Murphy, his voice cracking with emotion. "The only reason they should be going out is if they have a critical need. That’s it. If they do that we will slow this down."

The state, meanwhile, is moving closer reopening recently shuttered hospitals to address an anticipated surge in patients who will put a strain on the healthcare system.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Friday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to have the Underwood-Memorial Hospital in Woodbury reopened in no more than four weeks, providing 300 beds. She also said that the Army Corps will be examining the Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield, saying that the facility, which closed all but its emergency room in 2008, could be reopened in about five weeks, providing another 200 beds.

In the meantime, Murphy said it remains imperative that New Jersey acts to "flatten the curve" by practicing social distancing and staying home.

Persichilli said that in the end, the same number of people may end up getting infected but over a much longer period of time, allowing hospitals to provide care and ventilators.

Also on Friday:

  • Murphy said he and the governors of Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut have asked the federal government for $100 billion in cash to deal with the fallout of the pandemic.
  • Murphy signed legislation making COVID-19 testing cost-free for patients.
  • The state is halting adult day care services in all counties.
  • Drive-through testing will continue at Bergen Community College, which on Friday closed after collecting 654 specimens and turning away hundreds. State health officials called this a "success." Another FEMA drive-through testing site will open 8 a.m. Monday at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app