Murphy says we’re restoring NJ’s economy — not yet saying when
If New Jersey's on "The Road Back," to a normal life and familiar economy, it's idling at mile marker 0 — waiting for the go-ahead to shift into drive.
Gov. Phil Murphy Monday outlined principles for a plan he's calling "The Road Back: Restoring Economic Health Through Public Health" — stressing a need for infrastructure that would help contain the novel coronavirus in the coming months, and restore public confidence that it's safe to walk into stores, restaurants and other public spaces.
But the governor stopped far short of suggesting dates or even hard benchmarks for any of the many restrictions aimed at at slowing the spread of the virus. His stay-at-home order remains in effect. Most retail remains closed. Masks remain required in those stores that are allow to open — at least for now. And public gatherings remain banned.
"(New Jersey residents) are not looking for a date. They are looking for a plan," Congressman Tom Malinowski said at Murphy's daily coronavirus news briefing Monday. "They understand the reopening is not something the governor can make happen by waving a magic wand."
And Murphy's lieutenant governor, Sheilla Oliver, offered a similar sentiment: "I think that the 'Road Back' is reflective of the sentiment of the people of New Jersey."
But the preliminary direction from the governor — who said a panel focused on a reopening of New Jersey's economy would be announced Tuesday — comes amid pressure from several corners to take concrete steps. Protesters hit the streets of Trenton earlier this month, saying a reopening is overdue and questioning the governor's authority to order closures in the first place. President Donald Trump has been alternately deferential to governors and insistent states move to jumpstart their economies. New Jersey 101.5's Bill Spadea has been among the media personalities most consistently calling for a reopening, and criticizing the state's shutdowns as an overreaction.
And while new coronavirus cases and deaths continue to mount in New Jersey, they are slowing down — with hospitalizations declining steadily. It's a trend Murphy and other state officials have said demonstrates the success of social distancing and the state's restrictions, and one they're weary to see reversed by moving too quickly toward a normal economy.
Murphy Monday, instead of setting specific prerequsities for particular orders to be relaxed, outlined principles he said would be need to be met as the economy reopens — among them, greater testing capacity and contact tracing that could help contain outbreaks in the future. He described it as a process guided by "data, science, health progress and common sense."
"People need to know that their health, that your health, will be safeguarded from COVID-19," Murphy said.
He stressed that the effort would be coordinated with neighboring states, but that not all sectors of the economy would reopen in exact sync with the rest of the region.
And he warned that there will be consequences to the reopening — ones he hopes to mitigate with greater public health capacity.
"We are fully prepared that when we restart our economy, we will see COVID-19 cases," Murphy said. "Even if we bat 1000, even if we get everything right, we will see cases."
He said even as a staggered reopening moves forward, New Jerseyans should expect some restrictions to stay in place — for instance, work-from-home directives for those able to do so. The state might, for instance, continue to require masks in certain public spaces, he said.
Priority would be given to reopening business spaces where there's the least potential threat for contamination and the greatest help to the economy, Murphy said. From there, more businesses would be allowed to reopen in stages.
And Murphy said the state will look to build its own strategic supply of ventilators and protective equipmment, to be less reliant on federal authorities or philanthropic businesses in a time of crisis.
"I don't know when we'll be able to formally and finally start this journey," Murphy said.
Murphy, in the principles laid out Monday, said New Jersey will need to see a significant dropoff in cases, a doubling of diagnostic testing capacity (which he said could be in place by the end of May), robust contact tracing that could take an "army" of thousands of people to implement, the establishment of "secure and safe places" for those who are infected to isolate. He said that collectively would prompt a gradual, methodical restart of New Jersey's economy as it better prepares for future public health crises.
And Murphy said an emphasis would be placed on care that serves populations equally. New Jersey has seen its black and Hispanic populations suffer far more deaths, proportionately, than its white population — a pattern repeated nationally.
"COVID-19 did not create the inequities in our society, but it laid them bare," Murphy said. "So this is also our opportunity to close those gaps, and we are committed to doing just that."
Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said Monday 314 more people had been hospitalized, and 480 discharged — continuing the state's downward trend of hospitalizations seen for more than a week. Intensive care hospitalizations are down 9 percent from last week, and 18 percent fewer people are on ventilators.