Gov. Phil Murphy will sign an executive order to reopen all state parks and allow golf courses and county parks to reopen.

The order takes effect on Saturday, May 2, and will mandate social distancing.

The order comes after a growing number of municipalities had already begun to reopen their parks as the pandemic emergency continues.

Murphy's order allows counties to make their own decisions about reopening their park systems.

Playgrounds, restrooms, pavilions and other park facilities will remain closed.

"Now to be clear, we cannot have everyone rushing out to a park or golf course. Social distance will be strongly enforced and we expect golf course personnel to enforce this requirement," Murphy said. "All parks, whether they be state, county or municipal, will have parking capped at 55% capacity."

Murphy said that picnics, barbecues and other social gatherings would not be allowed at parks.

He also encouraged park visitors to wear face coverings, although that will not be mandated as long as people show that they can observe social distancing guidelines. He warned that he could rescind the new order if social distancing is not observed.

Murphy said that his decision was based on the latest data, not by pressure from protestors.

"Your interventions to me did not matter one little bit," Murphy said, addressing demonstrators and critics. "So with all due respect to all pressure that's been out there, we couldn't frankly care. We made this call based on data, science, fact and … mental health."

"There is no amount of incoming that I won't take to save the life of one child, one mother, one father, one grandparent, one neighbor," he added.

On Monday, the state's second-largest city reopened five municipal parks that had been closed since March. Jersey City continues to enforcing social distancing rules at the parks.

Also in Hudson County, which has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus, the mayors of Hoboken, West New York, North Bergen, Union City, Guttenberg and Weehawken have begun meeting to discuss plans to reopen their own municipal parks.

"Acting as one collaborative group in our approach ensures that no park is unintentionally attracting additional residents of surrounding municipalities due to conflicting rules and regulations," the mayors said in a joint statement. "This will allow our cities to take a cautious and deliberative approach that prevents the unintended spread of COVID-19, while promoting social distancing to the greatest extent possible."

The mayors of the Wildwoods this week also said they are discussing reopening their resort beaches. Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island already opened its beach to residents. Other Jersey Shore communities have kept their beaches open while closing their boardwalks.

Murphy announced an executive order on April 7 closing all state and county parks after reports that people enjoying springtime were packing several locations. He left the decision to close municipal parks to local governing bodies.

The decision to close parks was one of the governor's least popular actions amid widespread support for Murphy's response to the emergency overall, a recent poll shows. Some Republican lawmakers pushed back on the park closures, particularly the closure of golf courses, arguing that social distancing could easily be enforced at parks and that people need places to go outdoors for their mental and physical health.

Murphy, however, resisted as both deaths and new cases of COVID-19 climbed into the thousands.

"Trust me, I did not order these closures on a whim. They were made only after detailed discussions," Murphy said Wednesday. "Our goal has been simple and clear and that is to slow the spread and decrease the rate of infection. In the absence of either a vaccine or proven therapeutics … the only tools we have are covering yourself and social distancing."

On Wednesday, the state recorded another 329 deaths from COVID-19, for a total of 6,770 since the start of March. Murphy noted that the death toll is now larger than what the state has cumulatively lost on 9/11, Superstorm Sandy and in almost every armed conflict in the last century excluding World War II.

Republican minority leadership in the state Senate called Murphy's new order a "reasonable step" and "long overdue," calling for reopening of the economy.

“Additionally, we believe it’s time for the governor to begin to trust the tens of thousands of small businesses that have plans in place and are ready to reopen safely," GOP leaders said in a written statement. "They’ve made detailed plans and taken steps to ensure their ability to reopen while protecting their workers and customers. There’s no reason a shop on Main Street has to remain shut when the convenience store next door is open. If they can put in place the same precautions, Gov. Murphy should lift the restrictions he placed on them and let them get back to work.”

On Tuesday, the Republican Monmouth County Freeholder board called on the state to reconsider the closure of the 24-mile Henry Hudson Trail, which they described as an important "transit way" for residents.

The trail stretches from Atlantic Highlands, west along the Raritan Bay through Middletown, Keansburg, Hazlet, Union Beach, Keyport and Aberdeen before ending in Freehold at Route 537.

"The complete closure of this transit way causes serious safety issues that cannot be ignored. The Henry Hudson Transit Trail provides a safe way for Monmouth County residents to get to work by providing a way for residents to avoid walking on major highways," the freeholders said in a written statement. the freeholders said in a written statement. the freeholders said in a written statement.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to remove an inaccurate paraphrase of Gov. Phil Murphy's comparison of the COVID-19 death toll to past armed conflicts.

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