Hold the press, New Jersey is busted for partying again! While not at the level of Florida yet, residents in the state of New Jersey are trying to play catch up. Large social gatherings have begun to resume as the state started reporting a decline in the number of novel coronavirus cases. Just Monday, Daily Kos reported over a dozen lifeguards from two New Jersey towns tested positive following indoor beach parties.
In the most recent incident, three residents were charged for violating the governor’s order limiting the size of gatherings after at least 700 people were found partying in an Airbnb rental on Sunday, police officials said. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s order limits outdoor gatherings to 500 people and indoor gatherings to 100 or 25% of a room’s capacity. The three charged were identified as the Jackson homeowner, 40-year-old Yaakov Weiss, and 23-year-old Patience Guanue and 22-year-old Alicia Hinneh, the two party organizers. According to NBC News, it took the authorities almost five hours to shut down the event.
Police received multiple complaints of disturbances and unusual activity coming from a mansion in Jackson Township. Neighboring residents even complained about partygoers breaking and entering into nearby properties. Upon arriving at the scene, notice of a large crowd prompted police to contact Weiss who told them the property was rented on Airbnb, Nj.com reported. According to police officials, Weiss said he left when about 200 people were there.
The crowd continued to grow despite police presence resulting in police closing roads into the neighborhood to prevent more partygoers from arriving. "As additional people continued to arrive, the crowd at the residence grew to an estimate in excess of 700 people with well over 100 vehicles parked in the area as the department began receiving 911 calls from other homeowners in the area reporting disturbances and trespassing,” a statement from Jackson Police Captain Steven Laskiewicz posted on Facebook read. According to the statement, officers from surrounding towns assisted in clearing the area.
The party was advertised on social media as a Liberian Independence Day party with promises of not only free food but alcohol and dancing, USA Today reported. Videos of people dancing and smoking shared on Instagram have since been removed.
The Airbnb listing described the house as a “stunning 3,700+ square foot home costing $795 a night. The host’s rules include “no parties or events,” yet the house was rented specifically for a party. Airbnb Spokesman Ben Breit said the company is investigating the incident and has not only deactivated the listing but removed both of the party organizers from its platform. There was no mention as to any ramifications for the owner.
At the start of the pandemic, Airbnb temporarily removed the “parties and events allowed” rule from New Jersey listings that formerly authorized parties, NJ.com reported. “We strongly condemn the reported behavior, which represents both a clear violation of Airbnb’s community policies and a particularly serious abuse during this public health crisis,” Breit said in a statement. In addition, Airbnb shared a list of precautions both guests and hosts must observe to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
While it is not clear if some individuals in attendance were wearing masks, social distancing measures were clearly not taken seriously. Parties are taking place nationwide amid the pandemic. On Monday, at least five teenagers tested positive for COVID-19 following a house party in Lee's Summit, Missouri, on July 10, ABC News affiliate KMBC reported. When asked if he regretted attending the party, one teen who was tested Monday for coronavirus said: “Um, not really." If such gatherings continue and safety measures in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 are ignored, another surge in cases is inevitable.
New Jersey was one of the first states to experience a high number of cases at the start of the pandemic. While the state saw a drop in cases two weeks ago, its average has now risen more than 25% since then. On July 27, at least 17 new deaths and 449 cases were reported. As of this writing, New Jersey has reported a total of 182,215 cases of COVID-19 and 15,825 deaths as a result, according to The New York Times database.