NJ police break up 2 large weddings that defied COVID-19 restrictions

The events exemplify the challenge of convincing people to follow local and state public health restrictions aimed at helping stop the spread of the fast-moving virus


Avalon Zoppo
NJ Advance Media

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — Two weddings in Lakewood were broken up Thursday by police as state officials continued to warn against large gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Officers responded to the separate celebrations— one at Fountain Ballroom on Vassar Avenue and the other at Lake Terrace on Oak Street— around 8 p.m. and told venue staff that gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited, Lakewood Capt. Gregory Staffordsmith said. The workers and attendees then dispersed, he said.

“We stress that the public do their part in reducing the spread of COVID-19 by obeying the guidelines set forth by the State of New Jersey and encourage cleaning your hands often, staying home if your sick, covering coughs and sneezes, consider wearing a face mask if you aren’t feeling well, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and practice social distancing,” Staffordsmith said.

The events exemplify the challenge of convincing people to follow local and state public health restrictions aimed at helping stop the spread of the fast-moving virus, law enforcement officers said.

On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy banned gatherings of more than 50 people and has urged residents not to treat the situation like “an extended spring break.” The Trump administration has said gatherings should be limited to 10 people.

Lakewood police plan to strictly enforce Murphy’s order in the coming weeks and are sending reminders to venues throughout town about size limits, Staffordsmith said.

Mayor Raymond Coles said the township attorney is researching whether any local ordinances would allow officials to enact a temporary penalty for fine against those who hold large gatherings amid the pandemic.

“You’d hope you wouldn’t have to with everything going on in the news,” Coles said. “But if we stop this thing from spreading now, then we can get back to our lives more quickly... We need to respect the restrictions."

Still, Coles said he sympathizes for those forced to cancel or postpone weddings that are often planned months in advance. He said both venues thought Murphy’s restrictions on gatherings had not yet gone into effect. Neither venue immediately responded to a request for comment.

The state rules will also greatly disrupt the large Orthodox community in Lakewood, where gatherings play a big part of everyday life and the religion, Coles said. Two-thirds of the township’s 100,000 residents are Orthodox.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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