COVID tests at the boardwalk? NJ assemblyman says it's a good idea
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TRENTON — A New Jersey assemblyman wants extra COVID testing and vaccination sites at the Jersey Shore for the summer season, perhaps even COVID testing sites by the beach.
Assemblyman Ronald S. Dancer — a Republican who represents the 12th Legislative District, which includes Allentown, Englishtown, Manalapan, Matawan, Roosevelt, Upper Freehold, Jackson and Plumsted — called for the state Department of Health to send more COVID resources toward the coast in anticipation of warm weather crowds.
"The state could help protect the health and safety of tourism and hospitality professionals, year-round coastal residents, and tourists considering vacations at the shore, by setting up mobile coronavirus testing and vaccination units along the boardwalk or other prominent locations," Dancer said in a news release Tuesday. "This would support an economic recovery down the shore while responsibly addressing coronavirus concerns.”
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Tourism contributes about $41 billion toward the state's economy each year, according to the New Jersey Tourism Industry Association. Tourism-related taxes save each New Jersey household $1,545 in property taxes annually, according to the association.
"More than half of the tourism spending in the state in 2019 can be attributed to the Jersey Shore. Clearly, if we want to return to a booming tourism industry, we should be boosting our efforts at the Jersey Shore," Dancer said.
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The pandemic has created serious financial problems in some shore towns. Restaurants have closed. Municipal revenue has decreased. Small businesses have shuttered.
In Asbury Park, social distancing measures resulted in a $700,000 drop from previous years in beach badge revenue, Mayor John Moor said.
"Anything that can get people vaccinated sooner, I like the idea," he said. "I'm not sure if we would like it right on the boardwalk, but we'll see how this bill progresses."
State and county health officials have been working with the city to connect residents with vaccines, the mayor said. As of Tuesday, 1,601 Asbury Park residents have tested positive for the virus, according to the Monmouth County Department of Public Information & Tourism.
Since the start of the pandemic, 62,506 Monmouth County residents and 60,903 Ocean County residents have tested positive for COVID-19.
Moor said Asbury Park officials plan to limit crowd sizes on the beach again this year, but will close some city streets to accommodate outdoor dining and live music.
"We'll still err on the safety side," he said.
In Toms River, the pandemic strained the township's restaurants, leading to at least seven or eight eatery closures, Mayor Maurice "Mo" Hill said.
Hill said he would support plans to bring more testing and vaccination access to the Jersey Shore, but hopes the resources will not be in high demand by early summer.
"Anybody 16 and up, and anybody who wants a vaccination, by all accounts is going to be able to have it by the end of April, or May at the latest," said Hill, referring to federal plans to have about two-thirds of the U.S. population vaccinated by summer.
Last week, President Joe Biden urged states to open vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1.
In New Jersey, all adults and teenagers 16 or older will be eligible to be vaccinated by April 19.
Hill expects a return to some level of normalcy not long afterward.
"I fully expect the governor (Phil Murphy) to release his health emergency this summer," said Hill. "I don't anticipate it continuing."
Hill said Toms River officials have no plans to limit beach badge sales this year.
Brick officials have not yet decided if they will limit beach badge sales, but have already extended outdoor dining through November, Mayor John G. Ducey said in an email. The town's weekly farmers market will continue to operate socially distanced. The township's concerts and outdoor movies are scheduled for July and August under the assumption that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be by summer, he said.
"The governor has stated that... 70% of adults will be vaccinated by June, so we assume it will be a regular summer with everyone having the option to attend events (and) outings or not," Ducey said.
Dancer, the assemblyman, said more testing and vaccination sites at the Jersey Shore would help bolster the region's tourism industry while facing the pandemic's challenges responsibly.
"This summer already looks promising and the state should plan now on increasing access to testing and vaccinations in this region," he said.
Amanda Oglesby is an Ocean County native who covers Brick, Barnegat and Lacey townships as well as the environment. She has worked for the Press for more than a decade. Reach her at @OglesbyAPP, firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-557-5701.