Two homeowners were arrested in Lakewood, New Jersey, for hosting large wedding parties amid the coronavirus outbreak last week after concerned neighbors reported them to authorities.
Neighbors quickly alerted police after a large crowd was noticed at one home along Oliver Court, owned by Shaul Kuperwasser, 43, local media reported. Authorities quickly broke up the event and charged Kuperwasser with maintaining a public nuisance. The location was also deemed unsafe by the Lakewood Township Inspections Department.
At another home on Spruce Street home, Eliyohu Zaks, 49, was slapped with a similar charge by officers for hosting a wedding with more than 50 people, Patch.com reported.
The arrests come as New Jersey officials ramp up efforts to enforce social distancing orders in the state to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
"The Lakewood Police Department takes the precautions set by Governor Murphy very seriously and will certainly do our part to protect those we serve by strictly enforcing his mitigation strategies over the next few weeks," Capt. Gregory Staffordsmith warned earlier last week after police broke up other weddings.
"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," he said.
New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy urged residents in his daily briefing on Sunday to stop ignoring warnings to avoid large gatherings and remain in their homes as the number of coronavirus cases in the state neared 2,000.
“We are not happy with people out there ignoring what is a clear, unmistakable order to stay at home,” Murphy said. He explained that while previous restrictions on gatherings had a 50-person limit, an executive order on Saturday “actually dropped it to zero.”
The ramping up of restrictions on large gatherings in New Jersey comes in the wake of a close-knit Italian-American Christian family losing at least four members in a matter of days with several others becoming ill from the coronavirus after gathering for a family dinner in Freehold.
Grace Fusco, 73, who usually sat in the same pew for worship at church on Sundays, died along with her eldest son, Carmine Fusco, of Bath, Pennsylvania, and her eldest child, Rita Fusco-Jackson, 55. Another of Grace Fusco’s children, Vincent Fusco, also died in the tragedy.
"This is an unbearable tragedy for the family," Roseann Paradiso Fodera, a cousin and the lawyer representing the Fusco family, said.
Elizabeth Fusco, 42, the youngest of Grace Fusco’s 11 children, recently told the New York Post that both her and her daughter, who has a preexisting health condition, have tested positive for the coronavirus since the death of her mother and her siblings.
She still chose to cook dinner for her family the day she spoke with the Post.
“I have family to feed,” she said while preparing the meal. “My mother in her worst years, whenever she was scared or having a bad time, she cooked. So guess what I’m doing? I’m cooking.
“I feel very sad. I lost family but I still have to feed my family. I remember my sister and my mom when I’m cooking. In this world there is no promise of tomorrow. No one can assume anything.”
Another Fusco relative, Gabrielle Cartagena, announced on Facebook Sunday that she tested negative for the coronavirus.
“As most of you have seen my family has been gravely affected by the COVID 19 pandemic sweeping the world. I am extremely grateful for all of the love and support received from everyone!!" Cartagena wrote. "I am happy to finally put everyone’s mind at ease, I am negative for COVID -19! I still have two family members in the hospital fighting and pray they come home soon. Please everyone stay safe and healthy during this time. Hope we can all be together again soon."