All of New Jersey's beaches can reopen on May 22, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday, in a move that gives the state's coastal resort areas a week to prepare for Memorial Day – a holiday that normally draws thousands of tourists to the beach.
"The Jersey Shore will be open in time for Memorial Day weekend with social distancing guidelines in place," Murphy said at a news conference. "The shore is central to our Jersey identity, and we want to ensure that families can safely enjoy it this summer."
New Jersey has confirmed more than 142,700 COVID-19 cases, and the rate of positive test results was at 22% this week, the governor said Thursday. Nearly 10,000 people have died from the disease in the state. But Murphy added that the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading has continued to slow across New Jersey.
Social distancing has played a key role in controlling COVID-19, Murphy said, adding that it will be important to maintain those practices as the state loosens shutdown restrictions.
Reflecting the balancing act local and state leaders have been forced to perform across the U.S. because of the pandemic, Murphy urged caution even as he laid out a plan for reopening a vital area for the state's hospitality industry
"We are not out of the woods yet," he said. "We can make the cast that, at this moment in time, we're the most-impacted state in the region. This is why we need to keep up with social distancing, even as we begin our restart and recovery."
LOOK: We are not out of the woods yet. We can make the cast that, at this moment in time, we’re the most-impacted state in the region.— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) May 14, 2020
This is why we need to keep up with social distancing, even as we begin our restart and recovery. pic.twitter.com/H3knniNx3c
Murphy also mentioned positive trends for the state's fight against the coronavirus, noting that the rate of new hospitalizations is down by nearly two-thirds from peak levels and that the number of patients in intensive care has dropped by roughly 40%.
Despite the beaches' reopening, amusement parks and playgrounds will remain closed. Boardwalk restaurants can operate but only to provide carryout or delivery service.
All public and private beaches must limit their capacity and admissions, and concerts, fireworks and other special events will not be allowed, according to the rules Murphy outlined Thursday. Local officials should come up with the best way for their beaches to meet the requirements, he said.
All of the restrictions are temporary and could be loosened further if conditions improve.
"This is not a life sentence here," the governor said. "We could have a dramatically different reality a month from today."
A number of Jersey Shore beaches have remained open during the pandemic, seeking to limit crowds and urging visitors to follow social distancing guidelines or to use the beach only for exercise.
Crowds visited the Jersey Shore for last year's Memorial Day holiday, lured by ideal sunny weather. The visitors quickly filled state parks and beaches to capacity — forcing the state Division of Parks and Forestry to close some facilities temporarily.