Gov. Murphy, asking for some internet friends: Where is COVID finish line?

    I didn’t intend for my tweet to start a Twitter storm. To be honest, I didn’t think it would draw as much attention as my shameless pic of some pretty good-looking fajitas I had whipped up Saturday night.

    I was simply responding to a Saturday afternoon tweet by Gov. Phil Murphy — one in which he said the state is “not over the finish line” despite having dropped from 8,013 hospitalizations to 376.

    I tweeted: “Not trying to be a wise guy, but is it fair to ask, ‘Where is the finish line?’ This is the frustration I hear from the business community.”

    In the next 24 hours, I was bombarded by more than 150 likes, retweets and comments — that’s a lot for me. Clearly, I had struck a nerve. And no one thought I was being a wise guy.

    Of course, the internet being the internet, you never know what you’re going to get. Or from whom. Here’s what I got.

    Some offered an answer, saying Murphy had given a finish line: When there’s a vaccine.

    I’m not so sure about that. I’ve listened to all but a handful of his briefings, and that has never come up.

    Many — including Pat Rowe, a former councilman from Madison — said the finish line was election day.

    I’m not so sure that makes sense, either.

    Being vague about when the state will go into the next round of its reopening isn’t helping Murphy’s Democratic Party, or hurting the other one, best I can tell.

    Mostly, the reaction was frustration … from the business community.

    If the plan is to wait until there’s a vaccine, they say, just tell them so they can plan.

    If the plan is to wait until after cold-and-flu season, that’s fine, too. Again, just tell them.

    The biggest complaint is that Murphy says “data determines dates,” but won’t say what the data needs to look like to hit milestones.

    John P. Vermylen, a self-proclaimed pasta guy who happens to be a consultant for McKinsey with a Ph.D. from Stanford University, offered this:

    “The Road Back” plan was very much focused on businesses, given that most restrictions remaining are placed on businesses. So, what metrics do we need to hit to reach Phase 3? Not clear from what I understand, no specific metrics to reach. That’s a problem.”

    Indeed, it is. Business owners need a formula to follow. It all goes back to whether data actually does determine dates for reopening. (For things other than high schools and high school sports, which we now know are placed under local control.)

    As for big picture, consider the data. We know that hospitalizations are down by an incredible amount from the peak. (Murphy quoted 8,013 — but the highest total of hospitalizations was 8,065 on April 14.)

    So, we’re down more than 95% on hospitalizations (from 8,065 to 376)?

    And down more than 98% on ventilator use (from 1,705 to 27)?

    And down more than 96% on those in intensive or critical care (from 2,080 to 72)?

    Isn’t that enough? Wouldn’t those numbers be the definition of crushing the curve?

    One tweet said, “No.”

    Christian Oliveira, a self-proclaimed lover of Newark, Nintendo, pizza, dinosaurs and space, said he’s holding out for the ultimate — and what truly may be the impossible: zero cases.

    “The finish line is zero — in NJ and across the USA,” he tweeted at me. “The finish line is a widespread, free vaccine. We aren’t safe until it’s gone.”

    Is it too soon to wonder if he’s right? Could that really be the finish line?

    That might be too much to ask. And too much for businesses to hold out for. But, again, what business owners really want is this: a specific answer.

    Show them the finish line. Show them the mile markers to get there. Let me them plan accordingly.  That’s what Michele Siekerka, the head of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said.

    “Business community needs visibility to that finish line as it appears to have moved,” she tweeted. “How can they plan without knowing? It’s time to save those hundreds of thousands of jobs that are at risk of not returning. We’ve crushed the virus, let’s stop crushing the economy.”

    That’s really what this is about: balancing the needs of public health with the economy.

    That being said, I never intended to attract so many responses. And I realize this reaction is just one snapshot of the state. The snapshot, however, was very clear: More than five months into the pandemic, New Jersey residents still don’t know where the finish line is.