[See clarification below]
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank officials declared a “local state of emergency” Sunday night in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, ordering bars, restaurants and other large facilities to cease operations at the end of the day Monday.
The order effectively cancels the Dublin House Pub’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebration, which typically draws large crowds, as in 2015, above. Below, Good Karma Café on East Front Street set up a makeshift counter for takeout-only business. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
With the number of Monmouth County and New Jersey residents affected by the virus on the rise, “it is appropriate and necessary for the Borough of Red Bank to continue being proactive and a leader in its approach to advance social distancing, including preventing large gatherings,” said an announcement posted on the borough website.
The declaration, attributed to Emergency Management Coordinator Tommy Welsh, orders the closing to the public of all bars, restaurants, theaters, gyms and “non-essential places of business with occupancy greater than 25 persons,” effective 11:59 p.m. Monday.
After that, bars and restaurants may not serve patrons on-premise, with food delivery and takeout only permitted. Alcoholic beverage sales by all license holders – including packaged goods liquor stores – must cease at that hour, the order states. [Clarification: Police Chief Darren McConnell says liquor stores will be permitted to sell alcohol, but will be limited to the 25-person occupancy that applies to retail stores.]
Violators may be subject to fines, the order says.
“It is incumbent upon all of us to aggressively mitigate the potential for exposure and further spread” of COVID-19, the announcement said. “We apologize for any inconvenience but the safety of our business community and the public is our main concern.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna told redbankgreen Sunday night that the borough took the action after efforts to get “voluntary compliance” failed.
Asked if the town was acting in response to continued heavy patronage of downtown restaurants and bars throughout the weekend, Menna said, “that is one fair interpretation.”
With thousands of people coming into town to congregate at restaurants, bars and other businesses, as well as a large medical community that draws in large numbers of patients, the shutdown “has to be brought to the fore,” he said.
“Since the state is not taking any action, it must be taken at the local level,” Menna said, adding that the decision was supported by members of the borough council, as well as “all the professionals” his administration consulted on the issue.
In email and text exchanges with redbankgreen earlier Sunday, several downtown restaurant and bar owners defended keeping their doors open, on the grounds that shutdowns would adversely impact employees who have no other means of income.
Among them was Eugene Devlin, owner of the Dublin House Pub on Monmouth Street.
“This will hurt everyone from cleaners to bartenders and waitresses,” he said. “It’s their only job and most of them live on a week-to-week paycheck.”
Still, he noted, the situation was “fluid.”
The Dublin House is perhaps the largest attraction in town on St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on Tuesday.
“The tough balancing act is reasonable and urgent health concerns versus the financial well being of our over 700 employees,” said Tim McLoone, owner of the Robinson Ale House on Broad Street and other eateries in the region.
Other restaurants, however, already had adopted or were about to implement take-out and delivery services only. Among them: Good Karma Café on East Front Street; Sogo Sushi on Monmouth Street; and Surf Taco on Broad Street.
Here’s the full borough announcement:
Effective March 15, 2020, the Borough of Red Bank’s Emergency Management Coordinator has declared a State of Local Disaster Emergency within the Borough of Red Bank. Due to an increase of positive COVID-19 cases throughout Monmouth County and New Jersey, it is appropriate and necessary for the Borough of Red Bank to continue being proactive and a leader in its approach to advance social distancing, including preventing large gatherings in the Borough. The health and safety of our community must be our number one priority.
- All non-essential places of business with occupancy greater than 25 persons are closed to the public effective March 16, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. This shall include restaurants, liquor establishments, private gyms, theaters, etc.
- All bars and restaurant establishments, with and without a liquor license, are no longer permitted to serve patrons within the establishment. Any bar or restaurant establishment that currently offers food service will be permitted to conduct food takeout and food delivery service only.
- All establishments with a liquor license will no longer be permitted to sell, dispense, or distribute alcoholic beverages effective March 16, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.
Violators may be subject to fines and penalties. It is incumbent upon all of us to aggressively mitigate the potential for exposure and further spread. We apologize for any inconvenience but the safety of our business community and the public is our main concern. We appreciate your advance cooperation and understanding during this difficult time. The Borough encourages businesses to be proactive and follow the guidelines of the U.S. CDC which can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html
As part of the state’s coordinated response to address the novel coronavirus outbreak, Governor Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency and a Public Health Emergency, effective March 9, 2020 to ramp up New Jersey’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. The Borough of Red Bank Mayor & Council, Administration, Office of Emergency Management, Police Department and Fire Department continue to monitor the developing situation involving presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Monmouth County. As of March 15, 2020, the Borough of Red Bank is not aware of any presumptive or confirmed positive cases of the COVID-19 virus in Red Bank. For more information, visit the New Jersey COVID-19 Dashboard at https://www.state.nj.us/health/cd/topics/covid2019_dashboard.shtml
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the respiratory illness caused by a new virus that first emerged in December 2019. The NJ Department of Health (NJDOH) is leading the state’s response to COVID-19 and is working closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For up-to-date information and recommendations, please visit the NJDOH coronavirus webpage (https://www.nj.gov/health/cd/topics/ncov.shtml) and the CDC coronavirus webpage (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html).