TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy says he hopes to permit Atlantic City’s casinos to reopen in time for the Fourth of July holiday but warned that restrictions and changes in how casinos operate will be needed.
“I can’t give you a specific date but we’re trying like heck to get toward I hope before the Fourth of July or at least by the Fourth of July we’re in a position where we can say, subject to a lot of different parameters, the casinos can be open again,” the governor said Sunday during an interview with WOND Radio.
Atlantic City’s casinos have been shuttered since the middle of March along with all other nonessential businesses as part of the state’s strategy to slow the spread of coronavirus. The closures have left thousands of casino workers to become jobless and has also resulted in huge losses in tax revenues.
With the number of coronavirus deaths, cases and hospitalizations on the decline, Murphy has taken steps to lift some of the state’s social-distancing restrictions.
On Sunday, the state Department of Health reported 837 new positive cases of infection across the state and 64 new deaths. There are now 160,445 total cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey since the outbreak started in March and 11,698 total deaths.
The state also reported 49 new cases of infection in Burlington County, bringing the county’s total up to 4,627 cases and 291 deaths.
Burlington County’s total infections is now the 12th highest among New Jersey’s counties, supplanting Somerset County, which has 4,583 cases and 419 deaths.
The latest numbers show the rate of the disease spread in the county has remained steady for most of this month.
In the most recent week, new cases grew about 10% from the 4,213 reported on May 24 to the 4,627 cases reported Sunday. The two weeks prior cases grew at a rate of around 11% and 12%.
A total of 1,948 of the Burlington County cases have involved residents or workers at long-term care facilities, amounting to 42% of the county’s case load. However, 56% of the county’s 419 COVID-19 fatalities were long-term care residents.
On Sunday, Murphy reiterated that decisions on when and how to lift social-distancing restrictions and reopen business are made based on such data points rather than on the emotions surrounding the closures and the deaths from the virus.
“We focus these decisions on the data. You can’t be swayed by emotion on something like this. As tragic and personal as these lives lost are, you’ve got to keep your eye on exactly what the science is telling us,” he said.
Beaches and parks have already been reopened, and retailers are now permitted to make curbside sales. Hospitals and other providers are allowed to perform elective procedures, and child care centers, summer camps and horse racing tracks have also been given the greenlight to reopen soon.
Murphy hinted that he expects to announce new guidance for retail businesses and for restaurants on Monday.
He said reopening casinos was also a priority, but lamented that it also poses challenges that will require some changes and restrictions.
“The bad news is casinos have the attributes that are hardest to deal with with the virus. It’s indoors, no ventilation, you’re sentintary. You’re in close proximity,” he said. “Having said that they’re big footprints and we think there are successful steps that can be taken to address the challenges.”
Murphy did not provide any specifics but said the state was working with casino owners, operators and workers to develop a safe reopening strategy.
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