‘We’re basically saying, unequivocally, stay at home’

Minutes after delivering a stay-at-home order to all New Jersey residents — one that says the only people who should leave their homes are those doing “essential” things in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Phil Murphy was stumped by a question about next steps.

“Last week, we said if you’re traveling around the state between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. and you’re non-essential, we want you off the roads,” he said. “We’re basically saying that’s now 24 hours. We don’t want you out there. Period.”

(Click here for more details on the order, including who is considered “essential.”)

Next steps?

“There’s not a whole lot more we can do, to be honest with you,” he said. “We’re basically saying, unequivocally, stay at home — unless you are part of an essential service and we really need you to keep the state functioning and keep fighting this virus.

“There’s not a whole lot more we can do, but we reserve the right. If something does come up, we reserve the right.”

Col. Pat Callahan, the state police superintendent, said there’s more law enforcement can do — and will do, if people don’t take this latest executive order seriously. He said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in a call with all 21 county prosecutors, outlined the guidance that has been put out.

“All police departments and all chiefs were advised as to what those charging manuals are and where they could find them,” Callahan said. “All of law enforcement, including all 21 county prosecutors, are ready to enforce them and prosecute them.”

Failure to comply would be a disorderly conduct charge.

“So, when the governor says we’ll take action, we’re at that point,” Callahan said. “Last week, I talked about discretion and that being the greatest tool in law enforcement. I think we’re beyond that now, given the measures we’ve put in place.”

Murphy was more straightforward.

“If folks are monkeying around, we will take action,” he said.

Murphy did say people could leave their homes — this isn’t shelter-in-place. You can go out for a walk (he encouraged exercise). But even those events should be severely limited — with an emphasis on the 6-foot social distancing rule.

Murphy said his stay-at-home order was based upon on the workforce, defining what is essential as opposed to what is non-essential.

The governor said there are five blanket exceptions to the executive order:

  • Health care or medical service providers;
  • Access to essential services for low-income residents, including but not limited to food banks;
  • The media;
  • Law enforcement;
  • Operations of federal government or the movement of federal officials when operating in their official capacity.

“Beyond that,” Murphy said, “folks should assume — certainly in retail — that everything is nonessential. And, furthermore, if you are a business that is non-retail, we expect you to immediately go — assuming it’s practical — to 100% work from home. We can’t mandate your particular company in how you do that, but we expect you to do that.

“We want to be very clear about what is essential. We want you to assume that everything that’s not on that list is not essential. And, if you are a business that we didn’t ask to be closed down, you’ve got to have 100% work-from-home policies in place. And we expect people to work from home.”

How long the order will last isn’t as clear.

“It’s somewhere measured in weeks to months, would be my advice to folks,” Murphy said. “This is not next week.”

The goal, after all, is to flatten the curve of cases — not necessarily eliminate them, he said. That will lead to longer public measures.

“One of the things about flattening the curve,” he said. “You have the same amount of cases, but you spread it over a longer period of time, which allows the health care system to be able to stay ahead of this. So that implies this is not going to change anytime soon. I don’t have a crisper answer than that.”

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli didn’t, either.

But she did say she knows the one step everyone needs to take.

“Social distancing is the key to stopping this,” she said. “There’s nothing more sophisticated about it. We don’t have a vaccine. Stay home. Wash your hands. Wash them frequently.”

Persichilli said the executive order was the next progressive step.

“There are some epidemiologists who are saying clearly, we’ve done containment, mitigation, you should go to suppression,” she said. “We’re starting that. Suppression is exactly what the governor is talking about.

“Stay home. Practice good respiratory etiquette, good overall health hygiene. And do it for a long period of time. That’s what we have. Those are our tools.”

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