Murphy: ‘For those who don’t believe, I’m begging you … believe. This is real’

Governor reveals urgency of massive restrictions on movement — but realizes he needs full buy-in from public to make it work

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Mar 16, 2020 at 4:54 pm
Editor’s Desk

After he ran through the litany of changes he is bringing to the state — the school closings (and they will be for much longer than just two weeks) … the driving restrictions (no one on the road after 8 p.m., but it’s not a “curfew”) … the closing of businesses (there are a lot; you’ll see them below) … the restrictions on bars and restaurants (closing early, only takeout) … the use of the National Guard (not clearly defined, but should show the depth of the situation) — Gov. Phil Murphy made a personal plea to some of the residents of New Jersey.

The one who are not taking this seriously. The ones who may be indifferent. The ones who feel this doesn’t impact them.

“If you don’t believe, believe,” he pleaded. “This is real. Please take this seriously.

“If you don’t care, I’m begging you to care.”

That’s where we are in New Jersey.

It’s not the 80 new cases — nearly doubling the state’s total to 178 (and we know it’s higher). It’s not being designated one of the 12 biggest priority states by the federal government. It’s getting everyone to buy into this notion of social distancing.

Murphy, always upbeat, always positive, was noticeably distressed. He knows that if everyone doesn’t buy in, everyone will be hurt.

“Let me address three types of people,” he said.

  • No. 1: Those who have anxiety. “I want you to know we get that,” he said. “We understand it. We appreciate it. Our collective actions are to lesson your anxiety.”
  • No. 2: Those who don’t believe: “I’m begging you,” he said. “Trust us. Believe. This is real. And if it turns out it isn’t, it’s on me. Believe this and do what you need to do and do what you’re being asked to do.”
  • No. 3: Folks who may not care: “Even innocently. Even benignly. That may think they’re beyond this. That they’re too healthy. I would ask those who don’t care, care. Care deeply. Care personally. Take this seriously.”

Murphy proved he did Monday with tighter restrictions on moment.

  • School closings: Murphy said the closings are indefinite at this point. “Many districts and institutions of higher education have announced closures of two weeks,” he said. “We all need to prepare for the likelihood that it will, in fact, be much longer. In fact, CDC guidance (of an eight-week ban on large crowds) beat us all to that likelihood.”
  • Driving restrictions: “All non-essential and non-emergency travel in New Jersey is strongly discouraged between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily,” he said. “To be clear, this is not a curfew — but it is strongly recommended and travel is strongly discouraged. If you don’t need to be on the roads, you should not be on the roads.
  • Temporary closures: All casinos, racetracks, movie theaters, performing arts centers, nightclubs, gyms and fitness centers and classes will also close entirely, effective at 8 p.m. Monday until it is deemed safe for their reopening, Murphy said.
  • Bars and restaurants: All bars and restaurants are closed for eat-in services effective at 8 p.m. Monday until further notice, Murphy said. After Monday night, these establishments may open for takeout and delivery service only. These restrictions will be during daytime hours, as well.
  • Non-essential retail, recreational and entertainment: They must close at 8 p.m. every day beginning Monday evening. And, during business hours, businesses may remain open — but only if they limit their occupancy to no more than 50 persons and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Murphy said grocery stores, pharmacies, medical offices and gas stations may remain open past 8 p.m. But all social gatherings of 50 or more people — no matter the time of day — are canceled.

The governor said he knows this won’t be easy.

“We do not take any of these steps lightly,” he said. “We know that each comes with its own sets of impacts on residents and families on communities and on local businesses. But, at this moment, our paramount concern must be to flatten the curve of new cases, so we do not overload our health care system.

“We all must take seriously the need for social distancing, which can help slow the spread of coronavirus. We need everyone, frankly, to stay home.”

This is where he got frustrated again, bothered that some don’t realize the gravity of the situation.

“Let me perfectly clear, it was very obvious from what we saw over the weekend that not enough New Jerseyans are taking to heart the need for social distancing that is absolutely vital to our flatlining the curve and keeping ahead of this public health emergency,” he said.

“There is no reason anyone should run the risk of infecting friends and loved ones, or their community, especially those who may be most vulnerable to coronavirus. I know some people wanted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but absolutely no one should even have been considering going out to a bar. Even if you feel completely healthy, you can still be a carrier of coronavirus.

“There will be another St. Patrick’s Day next year. Sitting this one out could mean the difference for you, or someone you love, to actually making it to then.”

He tried to offer some levity. Tried to explain how he has seen — perhaps more clearly than almost everyone else — how serious this is.

He referenced “Jaws.” And if you’re a person of a certain age, you’ll get the reference.

Chief Martin Brody didn’t realize the true scope of the shark attacking swimmers until he saw it face to face.

“When he finally had a good look at the shark, he turned around and said, ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat,’” Murphy said. “What you’re hearing from us today is a bigger boat.

“We have seen the enemy, and we do not want to be dragged by the enemy. We want to get out ahead of this. It is consequential. It is formidable. We are doing everything we can to get out ahead of it.”

Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus: