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Coronavirus US: Airbnb removes 35 NJ party house listings

The home rental website Airbnb has said it is cracking down on ‘party houses’ in New Jersey after a spike in coronavirus cases in the state. 

A total of 35 listings have either been suspended or removed across the state.

‘Our actions today address the small minority of hosts who have previously received warnings about hosting responsibly,’ the company said in a statement. ‘The suspensions were communicated to the hosts beginning yesterday.’

‘We stand with Governor Murphy, and we support his call to action to stop parties and promote behavior that respects the public’s health,’ said Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s senior vice president of Global Policy and Communications. ‘We ban party houses and will not tolerate irresponsible behavior on our platform.’

Many of the listings are in beach towns along the shore including Atlantic City, Brigantine, Stafford Township, and Ventnor City.  

A house party in Middletown, New Jersey is believed to have sparked 65 new cases with 52 of those infected between 15 and 19 years old.

In Westfield, New Jersey, 17 cases of the virus were detected after a graduation party. 

There has also been 35 cases connected to a party at which lifeguard from Long Beach Island attended. 

Most of the listings that have been suspended are North and Central Jersey according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.  

As of Thursday, New Jersey had recorded an average of 416 cases per day over the last week, an increase of 28 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

On Friday, there were 699 new coronavirus cases, sending the week’s average number of daily cases to 550, well above the rate from a month ago. 

‘The numbers are setting off alarms,’ New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy said at a briefing on Friday. ‘We are standing in a very dangerous place.

‘We are not past this,’ the governor said. ‘Everyone who walks around refusing to wear a mask, or who hosts an indoor house party or who overstuffs a boat is directly contributing to these increases. This has to stop.’ 

Similar worries exist in Cape Cod, Massachusetts where a cluster of coronavirus has emerged in the town of Chatham where partygoers attended without masks, according to the Boston Herald.

Many of those at the party which took place in the second week of July were restaurant workers.

That resulted in shutdowns at several restaurants in Chatham after nine people who attended the party were found to have become ill with the virus. 

‘It just highlights the fact that these large parties where people are not practicing social distancing and not wearing masks can have significant impacts,’ Chatham Director of Natural Resources Robert Duncanson said at a council meeting. 

‘This is something that I think we’ve all been very concerned about. We’ve seen this happen in other parts of the country… These kinds of events are really problematic, and they are hitting home now on the Cape.’

Chatham’s Kream N’ Kone restaurant is one of those closed until further notice. So too is The Talkative Pig restaurant.

‘We will be closing to thoroughly clean and disinfect the restaurant and all of the remaining employees will get tested,’ the Kream N’ Kone wrote on Facebook. ‘When the health department tells us it is safe to reopen we will do so.’   

‘Out of an abundance of caution, we are following CDC guidelines and shutting down to allow our staff to self-quarantine and for us to do another deep sanitize,’ The Talkative Pig wrote. 

About an hour away, in the coastal community of Falmouth, an in-person high school graduation ceremony was scrubbed after school officials say some seniors were exposed to the virus.

And on the western side of the state, the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield is dealing with an outbreak of at least 40 cases traced to a hospital staffer who recently returned from an out-of-state vacation.

The outbreak comes less than a month after Massachusetts allowed gyms, movie theaters, museums and other public venues to reopen leading to an increasing sense of dread that the hard-hit state’s summertime respite from the pandemic is waning just as families are looking ahead to the start of school.

‘Pay attention #Massachusetts – #COVID19 is on the rise. The numbers show it. The anecdotes show it,’ Dr. David Rosman, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said in a series of widely shared tweets Sunday.  

The state already has the third-highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., at more than 8,300. 

Last weekend law enforcement broke up a 700-person party at an Airbnb in Jackson Township, Ocean County. 

The party took place at a mansion that had been rented out for $795-a-night on Airbnb on Saturday night. 

Jackson Police say they first started receiving reports from concerned neighbors about the party at about 8.30pm.  

When they arrived at the home, they found a large crowd at the property. 

Officers contacted the owner of the home, 40-year-old Yaakov Weiss, who said he had rented his property out for the purposes of a party.  

Weiss told police that he left the property when about 200 people had shown up. 

Police said the party eventually grew to host about 700 people and 100 cars could be found parked near the mansion. 

Weiss has since been banned from Airbnb’s platform. 

‘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,’ a spokesman from Airbnb said.  

Footage on Instagram that appeared to be taken inside the party showed people dancing and drinking within close proximity to each other. 

Instagram stories bemoaned the party being broken up by police.  

Police spent five hours trying to break up the party and were forced to call for back up from neighboring law enforcement departments.

Officers say they were forced to shut down nearby streets in a bid to stop even more partygoers, who were still arriving, from turning up at the mansion.  

In one of the wealthiest towns in the country, Greenwich, Connecticut, a spike in cases has been detected among young residents celebrating their final year of school.

More than 20 people between the ages of 16 and 21 have tested positive for the virus according to the New York Times. 

The ‘mini surge’ in infections occurred around two weeks after the parties were held but it has proven difficult for Greenwich health officials to track down those who may have come into contact with infected persons with few teenagers admitting to having been at the gatherings. 

A wall of silence has emerged with many of the youngsters instructed by their concerned parents not to speak openly about the parties. 

Fred Camillo, who its on Greenwich’s council, says there is to be a special meeting held in order to determine how better to enforce the rules when it comes to social distancing and wearing masks. 

‘There’s going to be consequences now for people who disobey the measures,’ he told The Times. 

In nearby Darien, another wealthy Connecticut town, a spike among teens has also been discovered there with five people testing positive in a single day, again possibly linked to parties. 

‘It’s summertime. It’s beach weather. People are out on boats. They are having parties. And I think they are beginning to let their guard down. It’s critically important that young people understand that they can get the virus and they can spread the virus,’ said Jayme Stevenson, on Darien’s town council. 

‘A small cluster of cases can turn into hundreds of new infections within days,’ Ned Lamont, the Governor of Connecticut said. ‘If you multiply that, we are looking at major impact to our ability to continue to reopen our economy or even send children back to school in September for in-person instruction.’ 

In the Boston suburb of Somerville, home to Tufts University, Mayor Joseph Curtatone has voiced similar concerns.

The Democratic mayor has decided to keep in place Massachusetts’  stricter guidelines instead of moving towards a reopening in the city 80,000 residents. 

‘We know small numbers can flash into big ones on a dime,’ Curtatone said, citing a slight uptick in virus cases in the greater Boston area. ‘We’ve certainly seen the stories in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states. California should be a warning sign for us.’

Worries about a summertime resurgence extend into neighboring Rhode Island, which mobilized National Guard troops in the earlier days of the pandemic to go door to door tracking down visitors from New York – then the pandemic’s epicenter – to ensure quarantines.

The tiny state has been relatively spared from the pandemic, but saw a spike of more than 100 newly confirmed cases Tuesday – Rhode Island’s highest single-day total in months.

In response, Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo on Wednesday delayed the next phase in the state’s reopening plan by another month. She also cut back the maximum size of house parties and other social gatherings from 25 to 15 people, citing infections linked to parties, particularly among young adults.

‘We’re partying too much,’ Raimondo said. ‘It’s clear we’re not ready to move forward.’

She also imposed stricter limits at the Ocean State’s increasingly crowded beaches in recent weeks, and has threatened to impose tougher measures on bars and restaurants after some owners continue to flout the state’s virus regulations.

Charlie Baker, the republican Governor of Massachusetts hasn’t publicly entertained the idea of rolling back the economic reopening in Massachusetts, which had the highest unemployment rate in the nation in June, at more than 17%.

He argues that much of the state’s recent uptick can be attributed to individuals ‘letting down their guard’ and not practicing proper virus safety etiquette, leading to the outbreaks on Cape Cod and in western Massachusetts.

At the same time, he’s announced stricter travel restrictions on people coming into the state starting August 1, in recognition of soaring caseloads in other states.

But Baker and other state officials have stressed Massachusetts’ key virus measures remain far below those in other states, not to mention compared with where Massachusetts stood when he began the phased reopening in mid-May. The state’s seven-day positive test rate was 9.6% back then; it’s now around 2%.

Rosman and other leading physicians counter that Massachusetts has averaged roughly 300 daily cases in recent days, a 30% increase from prior weeks. They also point to anecdotal evidence that the public has grown weary of the virus fight.

In Falmouth, the seaside town that abruptly canceled graduation, town officials disclosed earlier this week that at least eight local lifeguards have tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a party for beach staff.

And in Boston, Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh publicly berated a harbor cruise operator after an image of a seemingly packed vessel went viral last weekend.

‘We think we’re winding down on COVID-19, but we’re not,’ he said during his daily virus briefing. ‘If we’re in a sporting event, we’re probably at halftime right now.’

Rosman, the medical society president, said a return to virus safety fundamentals is even more crucial as local communities prepare to reopen schools and tens of thousands of college students arrive on campuses in the coming weeks.

‘If the goal is to get back to school, we have to do the actions needed to get there,’ he said. ‘It’s like trying to lose 20 pounds. You don’t get there by eating McDonald’s. You do it by exercising and eating right.’

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