Bill Requiring Established Standards for Counties, Municipalities Based on Local COVID-19 Risk Categorization Passes Committee

As COVID-19 cases rise in New Jersey, three Assembly Democrats are seeking a more localized approach to managing the spread of the virus through a bill that would require the creation of a county-based mitigation plan to allow businesses and services to operate based on area COVID-19 cases during the pandemic. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

“We have seen over the course of this pandemic that COVID-19 can circulate in different regions at different times,” said Assemblyman Burzichelli (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem). “Sometimes certain counties or municipalities will experience a spike in cases while other areas have the virus under relative control. We need to acknowledge the geographic variations throughout our state and establish guidelines based on applicable risk level to prevent unnecessary business closures at a time when many of our small businesses are struggling to survive.”

The bill (A-4910), sponsored by Assemblymen John Burzichelli, Gordon Johnson and Joe Danielsen, would require the Governor to work with the Commissioner of Health to establish a plan that would use data to analyze COVID-19 trends in each county and municipality, then individually categorize each area as high, medium or low risk.

Categorizations would take new cases, hospital capacity, positivity rates and other factors into consideration.

“Uniform closures are not always the way to go in a situation as complex as this,” said Assemblyman Johnson (D-Bergen). “Broad, sweeping measures can do more harm than good by restricting or shuttering businesses in low-risk areas that could continue to safely operate even though a similar business elsewhere in the state cannot. We need to act with precision and transparency that allows businesses to anticipate necessary restrictions throughout the remainder of this public health crisis.”

“This pandemic will continue to challenge our state for many months to come,” said Assemblyman Danielsen (D-Middlesex, Somerset). “We need to have standard, transparent metrics for business activity that takes the unique situations in different areas of New Jersey into account. A countywide or municipality-wide approach would help save lives while also saving countless livelihoods.”  

The plan would establish guidelines regarding restrictions on business and other activities for each area to follow based on their current categorization. For counties with a population of more than 1,500 people per square mile, the Governor could either limit activity countywide or restrict activity by municipality. Counties with fewer than 1,500 people per square mile would have activity restricted by municipality.

The bill further specifies that each municipality could choose to further restrict business activity within its boundaries if local leaders believe data indicates additional limitations are necessary.

The bill now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.