Gov. Phil Murphy, who has hinted at more restrictive action for weeks as the numbers of COVID-19 cases continued to rise, was very clear in his remarks.
“How close are we to doing something?” Murphy asked, and then answered. “Close. So, bear with us. We will clearly be taking action.”
That was last Thursday.
Since then, New Jersey has had three more days of cases that may force Murphy’s hand. Say this for Murphy: Whenever he has hinted at action in the past, he has taken it.
But, what can he do?
Any restrictions could severely impact the economy. And, with the holidays — and family gatherings — coming soon, there are no assurances the public will heed his advice in private anyway.
We may learn more Monday.
The governor has a regularly scheduled COVID briefing. And he’ll come into it looking at some alarming numbers when it comes to new cases.
- Friday: 2,199 new cases;
- Saturday: 3,207 new cases;
- Sunday: 2,043 new cases.
Saturday’s number was the highest single-day total since April 27 — during the height of the pandemic. The state reported 3,730 cases then. And well after the stay-at-home order was in place.
New Jersey now has nearly 15,000 new cases this month — through seven days. That’s about what the state had in all of September.
A second a stay-at-home order appears unlikely, for one reason: It would be devastating to retail businesses, especially as they begin a push for holiday shopping to help salvage what they can of a miserable year.
Businesses, however, are worried.
Tony Russo, the president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, said a shutdown would be crushing.
His members, Russo said, are concerned as much about as what President-elect Joe Biden will do in January as what Murphy may do now.
“The president-elect was pretty adamant about shutting different parts of the economy down,” Russo said. “I can tell you, now that the election is over and there’s an uptick in cases, I’ve been getting calls from members wondering what the governor is going to do.”
Russo said a second shutdown is not needed. Businesses — and employees and customers — are much smarter the second time around.
“We don’t want to get back to where we were in March and April,” he said. “Our members are better educated, they’ve done a lot of things to keep their employees, customers and vendors safe.
“We just hope we’re allowed to do business, because there are a lot of small business that are really struggling right now.”
Hospital executives have said the second wave will be different, too. Cases aren’t as severe. Hospital stays aren’t as long.
Barry Ostrowsky, the head of RWJBarnabas Health, said last week that shutting down the state could have an impact far greater on the economy than intended.
“At this point, if we’re going to go back and shut down businesses, I think would be very, very difficult — and probably could have a counterproductive reaction,” he said.
Even elected officials have said they want to avoid a shutdown of any kind.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop said last Friday that he has resisted restrictions because of the potential economic fallout.
“We really don’t want to see a broad shutdown, because the feedback from the business community is, if you shut them down a second time, the likelihood of some of them permanently closing is very high,” he said.
All of this puts Murphy in a tough spot.
Keeping the public safe has been his top priority — something he was able to accomplish with stunning success all summer.
Now, however, COVID-19 clearly is back. Some sort of action is called for.
Murphy has been able to juggle the concerns over public and economic health since the pandemic started. This coming week — if the numbers continue to explode — may be his toughest challenge.