If a vacation is still in the cards for you and your family this holiday weekend, or in the near future, keep in mind that the novel coronavirus isn't interested in taking a day off.

So taking your first car trip of the year with the top down, state officials and health experts advise, shouldn't symbolize the start of you letting your guard down in terms of protection from the respiratory illness.

Beaches are open as of Friday, along with boardwalk food vendors and restrooms, as a result of declining hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. State parks are welcoming visitors as well, and there's no statewide prohibition on hotels/motels and short-term rentals, although select municipalities have made the decision to disallow bookings until Memorial Day passes.

Beaches and state parks are to have measures in place to limit the number of users at one time.

"If it's not possible to socially distance and people are not wearing masks, my advice is to get out of that place, wherever you are," said Donald Schaffner, an extension specialist and distinguished professor in the Department of Food Science in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University.

"It's not enough just to stay away from people who are sneezing or coughing," Schaffner added, noting asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people still present a person-to-person transmission risk.

The state Department of Environmental Protection launched a public awareness campaign on Wednesday that strongly recommends people bring face coverings to public parks, forests and beaches, and wear them, especially when keeping a safe distance from others is difficult. Staff at state-run sites estimate that mask usage among visitors has declined significantly since the first weekend of May.

"With the warmer weather and Memorial Day coming this weekend, Mask Up! reminds New Jerseyans that we can do both: enjoy outdoors and keep our communities safe during the COVID-19 public health emergency," said Gov. Phil Murphy. "Communities across the state can share in our campaign to encourage their residents and visitors to wear a face covering to prevent the further spread of the virus."

Based on what's known about how the virus survives, a rental property or hotel room shouldn't contain infectious virus particles if it hasn't been used for several days. Schaffner recommends reaching out to a hotel, or its corporate office, to see how they've strengthened cleaning protocols during the pandemic.

"Same questions for the vacation rental home — reach out and ask, is there going to be somebody staying in the home before you are, when are they leaving, what cleaning and disinfecting is going to take place in between?" Schaffner said.

Schaffner recommends New Jerseyans enjoy a "staycation" for the time being.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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