Republicans ask Murphy to give milestones, benchmarks for reopenings

Fifteen members of the state Senate Republican caucus sent Gov. Phil Murphy a letter with the question nearly every New Jerseyan wants answered: When is he going to reopen more of the state?

More specifically — and to turn a phrase Murphy himself often uses — what is the specific data that is going to be used to make the decision?

“We are concerned that many of the broad restrictions that remain on various activities and business operations as a result of the executive orders you issued at the start of the COVID-19 crisis seem to make little sense today,” the letter said.

“We have heard repeatedly from our constituents that the manner in which reopenings have been announced appears to be arbitrary and inconsistent, with no clear communication regarding the metrics or benchmarks that must be met for executive orders to be loosened or lifted.

“Other states, including New York, Pennsylvania and Florida, have issued guidance that pegs data against clear benchmarks to demonstrate that public health interests are served by their states’ policies related to the coronavirus. The people of New Jersey deserve no less.”

(Read the full letter here.)

Murphy has repeatedly mentioned in recent days that the health data is trending in the right direction, but he has flustered many by not being more specific other than saying, “Data drives decisions.”

Wednesday was a perfect example.

“I have a high degree of confidence, assuming the numbers keep going in the right direction, that we can have summer camp activating, we’re just not there yet,” he said at his daily briefing. “We have a fairly sizeable army working on that right now — and I would also add to that day care.

“You’ve got day care, youth sports, summer camps, all of which are a fever pitch of putting together we feel are a responsible set of guidelines for folks. So, please bear with us. We know there’s a lot of demand for it. We’re not sitting on our hands, I promise you — but we’re not quite there yet.”

He said similar things last week about graduations — before relenting on those Tuesday.

Republican leaders want more.

“We urge you to offer clarity about the milestones that must be reached for small shops you have deemed ‘non-essential’ to reopen their doors to customers, for restaurants to serve diners and for congregations to meet again in houses of worship,” they wrote. “Many of those places are ready today to operate safely through the same precautionary measures that we trust to protect us when we visit a supermarket or other ‘essential retail’ business.”

The Republican caucus also suggested the state should consider the many reopening plans that already have been presented.

“In the absence of specific benchmarks for reopening from your administration, we urge you to review the many thoughtful reopening plans that have been submitted to you by counties, trade groups and chambers of commerce,” they said. “If those plans meet CDC guidelines, you should authorize them to be enacted immediately.”

Simply put, the Republican leaders said residents understand the risks and the safety measures that are required.

“New Jerseyans have gained significant knowledge about COVID-19 and how to stay safe since your executive orders were put into effect more than two months ago,” they said. “They understand that some people face greater risk, and some locations, like nursing homes, must maintain and increase vigilance.

“Given the benefit of time and what we have learned, we believe it makes sense to let New Jerseyans resume their lives without the continuation of arbitrary restrictions that do little today to keep them safe.

“If you believe public health data does not warrant that level of freedom, we encourage you to clearly explain why and to tell us, specifically, what must change. The people of New Jersey deserve to know.”

The letter was signed by senators:

Thomas Kean, minority leader; Joe Pennacchio, whip; Kristin Corrado, conference leader; Kip Bateman, deputy whip; Robert Singer, deputy leader; Chris Brown, deputy conference leader; Steven Oroho, budget officer; Anthony M. Bucco; Gerald Cardinale; Christopher Connors; Michael Doherty; James Holzapfel; Declan O’Scanlon; Michael Testa; and Samuel Thompson.

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