HOBOKEN — Mayor Ravi Bhalla told all city residents to self-isolate at home in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In a stern open letter to residents on his Twitter account, Bhalla blamed those who doubt the seriousness of the outbreak and dismiss it as "fake news" for leading to the current situation.

"The idea that there are 'alternative facts' and that science is 'fake news' is why we find ourselves, as a nation, in this trouble," Bhalla wrote in issuing the order,  criticizing those who packed the square mile city's bars over the weekend leading to St. Patrick's Day. "Let me be clear: facts are facts and science is science and it's about time we listen to the science."

The measure comes a day after Gov. Phil Murphy said that local and county governments weren't always working in step with state authorities, and that ultimate authority for putting restrictions in place rests with the state government. Garwood's mayor rescinded a plan to limit shopping at local supermarkets after intervention by the state Attorney General, NJ.com reported. Bergen County has issued sweeping restrictions on retail that go well beyond the state's — even after Murphy ordered all malls closed — but has delayed those restrictions until this weekend.

 

Police Chief Ken Ferrante echoed Bhalla's concern at a press conference and said the atmosphere in Hoboken "mirrored a spring break atmosphere."

The mayor also warned that a spread in Hoboken, which he said is the nation's fourth-most densely populated area, could be "deadly" for the city's most vulnerable population. Three positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Hoboken so far.

Bhalla said that residents should only leave their homes for "essential needs," including the purchasing of food, care for a family member or friend, or to go to a job where working remotely is not an option.

NBC reported the mayor doesn't expect a "mass crackdown" or arrests.

"We expect that there will not be 100 percent compliance, so we are going to take a gentle approach,

The mayor was grim in his justification of his city's lockdown.

"I know this is not easy. But I shudder at the thought of looking back on what we could have done now knowing that our region could become the next Italy before it's literally too late," Bhalla wrote in his declaration. "It would be the mistake of our generation to underestimate this pandemic and what we do now in the next several weeks could have lasting consequences for generations to come."

He also said public gatherings should be limited just five people, and ordered the closure of non-essential businesses including nail salons, hair salons, massage parlors, and non-essential medical offices.

He said activites like running, jogging, bike-riding and walking in public are all permitted. Restaurants can continue delivery and take-out only, as under a statewide policy announced by Gov. Phil Murphy this week. Similarly, grocery stores, supermarkets, bodegas, banks, restaurants with good, pharmacies and coffee shops can remain open until 8 p.m. each day.

Bhalla said in his message that he hopes other municipalities take similar actions which "will save lives."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ.

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