Murphy (politely) pushes back on Trump’s desire to get things back to normal quickly

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Mar 24, 2020 at 6:20 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged that President Donald Trump has the biggest bully pulpit in the world — and that whatever he says goes a long way. Murphy also said he won’t be rushed into taking steps to resume normal life in New Jersey before they are warranted.

And he said he’s not close to that day.

“I understand, given the enormity of the impact on the economy,” he said. “I can understand the folks who want to find as fast and as short a way, a road, back to normalcy as possible. I get that completely, but we have to do that responsibly. And I don’t think anyone is suggesting otherwise, but we’re not there yet.

“We’re going to stay the course, because we believe we’re basing our actions on the facts and science associated with the spread of this virus.”

File photo
President Donald Trump hopes to get life in the U.S. back to normal soon.

Murphy, speaking at his daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday, said the state has just begun to take action — and those actions take time.

“You can’t flip a switch,” he said. “We had begun to aggressively, for many weeks, get out ahead of this, but we really took our most draconian steps Saturday — that’s only three days ago. We need a longer runway to get a handle on this.”

Edward Lifshitz, the Department of Health communicable disease service medical director, agreed. When asked about modeling, he reminded people that the results the state announced Tuesday were a better snapshot of life in the state weeks ago — not today.

“We don’t know for sure exactly how effective the measures we are taking now are,” he said. “We have to have to wait and see. We have to see the data coming in. We have the hospitals, whether they are getting overwhelmed or maintaining the flow, and we have to see. I can’t say any better than that.

“We are too early. What we are seeing now in these numbers are not what’s happening now, it’s what was happening about 10 days ago. So, what we are seeing, people now, in the numbers that are infected, is roughly 10 days ago. So, it’s really too early to know exactly what we can expect to see with the response we’ve already taken.”

Murphy said money — not persuasion — is the biggest way the federal government can help New Jersey.

“(The president) doesn’t want the cure to be worse than the disease,” Murphy said. “I don’t think any of us do — but I do think there’s a responsible way to go about that. One of the huge levers available to get that done responsibly is the action Congress is (hopefully) taking today.

“If it stays in the neighborhood that I was read into by (New Jersey’s) Sens. (Bob) Menendez and (Cory) Booker coming in here, if it stays in that neighborhood, that is a huge jolt to the economy that will allow us to both fund the health care steps that we need as well as the huge dose of small business, unemployed insurance, state aid, transit aid, indirectly into the economy.”

Other news and notes from the briefing:

New cases

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Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.

Murphy announced that there have been 846 new coronavirus cases in the state, bringing the total to 3,675. Murphy also said there were 17 more fatalities, bringing that total to 44. It represents, by far, the largest single-day reporting of deaths.

Persichilli said the 17 deaths were in eight counties: Bergen (5), Morris, Essex (3), Hudson (2), Camden, Monmouth, Passaic and Union (1).

She said nine of the 17 deaths were in long-term care facilities and that, overall, there have been fatalities associated with 19 such facilities.

There were 63 new cases in Essex and Passaic counties, the first time any county other than Bergen has led the way at a daily briefing. Middlesex had 62 new cases, followed by Bergen (61) and Monmouth (53) counties.

The state also released the percentage of tests that have come back positive: Of more than 12,000 tests, approximately 3,600 have been positive, about 27%.

Murphy repeatedly said the public should not be alarmed by the number of positive tests — it’s a result of more testing, he said. The fatalities, he said, are justification for all the social distancing restrictions he has put in place.

Law and order

Governor’s Office
State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan.

Murphy said charges are being brought against a citizen who coughed on a Wegmans employee in Manalapan and then announced he had coronavirus.

The person, who refused to give his name or identification for 40 minutes, will be charged with making a terroristic threat, among other charges.

State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan said arrests overall have been way down this year, with a 25% drop in crime, including 18% in shootings.

Callahan also said a fourth state trooper has tested positive for coronavirus.

Education

Murphy said the state has applied for a waiver to cancel all statewide testing this spring. Murphy said there is no update on how long school will be out — and he has not decided whether schools will be taught remotely for the rest of the year, as other states have decided to do.

“With students at home, and not in their regular classrooms, it is simply not feasible for us to be able to move forward with testing in any meaningful way,” Murphy said. “This decision will not impact the graduation requirements of any student.

“The No. 1 priority must be for our students to work on the lessons before them, and to use this time, as best as possible, to keep up with their current studies.”

Budget

File photo
State Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio.

The New Jersey Department of Treasury announced it has frozen nearly a billion dollars in spending as it grapples with the economic uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus crisis. In a voluntary disclosure statement to state bondholders Monday night.

Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio said the state expects “precipitous declines in revenues” in fiscal 2020 and 2021, including lower income, corporate, sales and other tax revenues. Murphy said the decision was hard to reach, but said it was the right one to protect the state’s fiscal stability.

Day care dilemma

Murphy hinted he is getting closer to closing all day care centers, but said his biggest concern is for the welfare of the children of health care workers and first responders.

“When you have first responders and health care workers who have their kids at home for an extended period of time, you’re between a proverbial rock and a hard place,” he said.

Persichilli, a registered nurse, agreed.

“Forty percent of nurses are primary caregivers or single parents,” she said. “We need nurses on the front line, so good child care is imperative. It’s a huge issue.

PPEs

Murphy said the state will receive another federal shipment of Personal Protection Equipment. The latest shipment will have more than 200,000 N95 masks and 84,000 respirators.

Donations

Murphy announced that Public Service Enterprise Group will donate 50,000 N95 masks. Murphy also said Apple has offered to send gear, but was not specific on what it is. Those with donations are asked to email ppedonations@NJSP.org.

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