Murphy: Expect new guidance on beaches, retail stores next week
TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday that New Jersey should expect a major announcement in the next week regarding new rules on the shut-down orders.
"Be prepared for a significant amount of guidance in the next five to seven days," Murphy said at the end of his daily news briefing. "We are looking at a lot of things you’ve asked us about, whether it's beaches, non-essential retail or whatever it may be. And there's a lot of different considerations and a lot of steps that we are looking at."
The announcement came on the same day that the state Senate's 15 Republican members released a joint statement highlighting their concerns with Murphy's executive orders, which have been in place for about seven weeks and have led to more than a million residents filing for unemployment.
Outside the Statehouse on Thursday, several dozen demonstrators including online figures who share anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, were protesting the government's response to the pandemic.
On Wednesday, Murphy signed a new executive order extending the public health emergency for the second time since March. The emergency declaration has to be renewed every 30 days. The declaration is separate from the shut-down orders and Murphy said that restrictions could be eased before the emergency is over.
"Nothing's changed," Murphy said Thursday. "We are all looking at what other steps we can take. We will let you know if non-essential retail is allowed to reopen. It is not at the moment."
The Republican senate caucus said Thursday that thousands of their constituents have asked for help regarding the unemployment insurance system, "nonsensical disparities in business restrictions," and allowing people to access dental and other health services deemed non-essential.
State Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, R-Somerset, said that the state should trust residents and businesses to follow safety guidelines and make their own choices.
“The simple fact is that we’re all different people than we were seven weeks ago," Bateman said. "If New Jerseyans can be trusted to shop safely in a grocery store with masks, social distancing, and other safety measures taken, why can’t the governor trust them to visit a sporting goods store, a clothing shop, or countless other small businesses that remain closed?"
State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, R-Morris, said many "Main Street" businesses are worried that they may never be able to reopen.
“They want to know why you can buy a T-shirt at a big box store, but they’re not allowed to open for business to sell the same shirt from their shop on Main Street, even if they implement recommended precautions to keep employees and customers safe," he said. "They don’t understand why they are prohibited from offering curbside pickup of the products they sell using the same no-contact protocols employed by restaurants across New Jersey. These disparities don’t serve a real public health purpose, and they don’t make much sense."
State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, said that Jersey Shore businesses are also worried that they'll permanently sink if they can't reopen by Memorial Day weekend.
"We have a responsibility to protect the rights of every New Jerseyan and to take the least restrictive steps necessary to respond effectively to our public health needs," Testa said. "Unfortunately, I think it’s now clear that the governor has gone too far and should ease restrictions in a measured manner that treats businesses with the same risk profile equally.”
Late last month, Murphy empaneled a group of government, health and industry leaders to develop guidance for the state to reopen. The Restart and Recovery Commission is led by Merck CEO Ken Frazier and former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and includes former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former CDC acting director Richard Besser.
On Thursday, the state's death toll from COVID-19 reached 8,801. Hospitalizations, however, have been declining since April 15 and the rate of positive test results has been declining despite more widespread testing, all of which health officials attribute to the state's aggressive social-distancing measures.
"No state is doing what New Jersey is doing right now and we should all feel really good about that," Murphy said.