Governor Phil Murphy holds a coronavirus briefing in Trenton on March 23, 2020. (Edwin J. Torres for GovernorÕs Office).

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (left) looks on as Attorney General Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (second from left) speaks March 23, 2020, during a coronavirus briefing in Trenton, New Jersey.

(The Center Square) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered some low-level offenders released from the state’s county jails to prevent spreading coronavirus in those facilities and cracking down on those who violate the state’s stay-at home and price gouging laws.

The offenders must be serving a year or less and will not be released if there is an objection from a county prosecutor or the New Jersey Attorney General. All of them will have to comply with the same stay-at-home orders and will serve their sentence after the COVID-19 emergency is over, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.

“I take no pleasure in temporarily releasing or suspending county jail sentences, even for the lowest level inmates that are contemplated by today’s consent order,” Grewal said at a Gov. Phil Murphy’s news conference Monday on the outbreak. “But this is a most significant public health crisis that we have faced in our state’s history and it’s forcing us to take actions that we wouldn’t consider under normal times.”

Grewal told New Jersey residents that those who do not obey Murphy’s orders to stay at home will face some “serious legal consequences,” including nonessential businesses that have not closed and people who hold large parties at their homes.

“Violating these orders is a criminal offense in this state, and there are a range of charges available to us to ensure compliance,” Grewal said. “They include everything from disorderly persons offenses to second degree to third degree and fourth degree indictable charges.”

Grewal’s office is also monitoring price gouging, issuing about 160 cease-and-desist letters and serving nearly 30 subpoenas. New Jersey residents have filed about 1,400 price gouging complaints on 900 businesses, he said.

The attorney general’s office is also monitoring hate crimes against east Asians in light of reports of incidents across the country and state, he said.

“There is special place in hell for the people who take advantage of this health crisis,” Murphy said. “Whether you are price gouging or you use this as an excuse to pursue racist behavior or bullying behavior, there literally is not time for that in a normal time and there sure as heck is no time for it in the midst of a war we are under.”

Murphy also announced that beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, all elective medical and dental procedures will not be allowed. The order also asks that health care providers who are not involved in critical care to inventory their personal protection equipment, ventilators, respirators and anesthesia machines and send the information to state officials by Friday.

The number of New Jersey residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 rose to 2,844, an increase of 935 from Sunday. Seven additional deaths were reported, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 27.

Murphy said he expected the number of cases to increase as more testing is done. A testing center at Bergen County College opened last week and a center at Holmdel opened on Monday.