TRENTON, NJ (CBSNewYork) - On the day New Jersey essentially tied New York's coronavirus daily death count, the governor announced he will reopen all state parks and allow golf courses and county parks to open starting on Saturday.
Jersey's total confirmed COVID-19 cases rose by 2,481 to a total of 116,264.
Murphy ordered parks and golf courses closed on March 21, part of his series of statewide shutdown orders meant to slow the spread of coronavirus. Wednesday's order allows such facilities to reopen for those practicing social distancing starting on Saturday, May 2.
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"This will bring us in line, broadly speaking, with our neighboring states," said Murphy. "As I have previously said, I did not want to see us in a situation where residents would be needlessly crossing state lines in either direction. County governments will regain the authority to decide whether county parks will be open or closed."
While the governor welcomed people to resume running, hiking, fishing and boating, the state parks will have several restrictive conditions:
- Parking will be capped at 50% capacity.
- Playground, pavilions, visitor center and restrooms will remain closed.
- Picnics, organized activities and team sports will still be prohibited.
- Though not legally part of the order, wearing face coverings and keeping social distance are strongly recommended.
Similar restrictions will be expected at golf courses.
"Let's be clear, we cannot have everyone rush out to a park or golf course," said Murphy. "Social distancing will be strongly enforced, and we expect golf course personnel to enforce this requirement."
John Ward, of Madison, has been practicing his golf swing in his yard during the quarantine, and he's looking forward to trading his front lawn for the links.
"It's a way to exercise and release tension and stress," he said.
He just hopes everyone else is responsible during step one of the state's reopening.
"So that we don't regress and lose the privilege," he said.
The opening rules do not apply to New Jersey's beaches except for Island Beach State Park, but Murphy noted local municipalities could make their own reopening plans for local beaches with the state restrictions as guidelines.
Murphy noted during his daily COVID-19 briefing that many people had been asking him to reopen the parks for some time.
More than 13,000 people signed a petition implored the governor to recognize the importance of fresh air and exercise.
"Many of you have come my way, your interventions to me did not matter one little bit," he said. "With all due respect to all the pressure that's been out there, we couldn't frankly care. We make this call based on data, science, fact... Trust me, I did not order these closures on a whim."
While the weekend should bring sunny, clear skies, one thing that remains a little foggy is the policy on face coverings.
"We want you to wear face coverings. I have not mandated this as part of the executive order, it is a strong recommendation that you cover your face," Murphy said.
CBS2's Jessica Layton asked his office, why not just make them mandatory?
A spokesman said it's not a one-size-fits-all situation. Meaning, if you're out for a hike alone, you don't need one, but if there are people around you, you do.
Social distancing, however, will be enforced by police.
"If we don't like what we see, I hate to say this, I reserve the right to reverse the executive order," Murphy said.
The governor is also asking people to go to the parks closest to their homes.
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