Reopen by region: Frustrated business leaders to push idea

Tom Bracken loves the New Jersey Department of Health’s guidelines for reopening schools, the ones that use risk levels within six regions in the state to determine where — and how — it’s safe to reopen.

Bracken — and others — would love to see them used for the business community.

“It’s what we’ve been asking for months,” he told ROI-NJ.

That’s what he — and others — will tell the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee in a virtual meeting Thursday.

It makes no sense when (Gov. Phil Murphy) talks about leaving school openings to the schools and athletics to the NJSIAA — saying the experts know best, except when it comes to business,” he said.

Bracken, the head of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said as much in a statement released Tuesday with Michele Siekerka, the head of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

Michele Siekerka of the NJBIA.

“It appears that deferring to industry experts and local officials for COVID-19 reopening decisions is the proper process, except when it comes to the reopening of our businesses,” they said.

“The New Jersey Business Coalition has repeatedly called for a regional approach to the reopening of New Jersey’s economy. In doing so, the coalition noted the DOH’s current reporting of COVID-19 cases on a county-by-county basis. It recommended that a grid of ‘safe’ vs. ‘cautious’ counties can easily be developed.

“We strongly maintain that there is no reason why the same approach embraced by the DOH for informing local educational decisions can’t be used for ending the extenuated pause on our businesses.”

Bracken told ROI-NJ the plan the coalition is proposing actually uses more health data than what the DOH will use on schools.

“We’re using six data points, while they are using three,” he said, rattling off the metrics Murphy regularly cites, including hospitalizations, new cases, rate of transmission and positivity rate, among others.

Bracken, Siekerka and other business leaders and business are becomingly increasingly frustrated with the pandemic-related shutdown.

“It is disheartening that the governor fails to acknowledge that the reopening is more critically about the return of livelihoods for thousands of our business owners,” Bracken and Siekerka wrote. “It is about saving their personal investments born of years of sweat equity, the hundreds of thousands of jobs they provide and all they bring to the state’s economy. It’s about predictability and being able to plan — the hallmarks of any business endeavor. And it’s also about the mental health of those struggling to survive, and those who are shut in.

“If ‘data determines dates’ and ‘public health creates economic health,’ and we have improved COVID-19 numbers, but continued lagging economic numbers, we call on Gov. Murphy to end the pause of reopening New Jersey businesses.”

Even if that means one region at a time.