Murphy thrilled by Pfizer vaccine news, but says impact is in future — will announce tweaking of restrictions later Monday

Gov. Phil Murphy was ecstatic about the news that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is showing an efficacy of more than 90%, but he warned that the impact of the news was potentially six months away, that the state cannot let down in its battle against COVID-19 and that he will announce a tightening of restrictions — a tweak at the edges, he said — later Monday.

Murphy, speaking on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” this morning, was asked if the vaccine news changed his thinking about adding restrictions in the state.

“The short answer is, ‘No,’” he said. “I was on Saturday with Dr. Tony Fauci, who has been a great adviser for us in New Jersey, and he made the point, we’re sort of in a six-month window here.

“We’re in a plus or minus six-month window, where we have to battle against the COVID fatigue (and) stop letting our hair down with holidays coming up. So, the answer is, ‘It doesn’t change us in that window, but, boy it’s really, really good news in the longer term.”

Murphy said this afternoon he will announce restrictions — but said they will not be the same as he instituted in the spring, when he locked down much of the state.

“They won’t come close to what we were doing in the spring,” he said. “This is not a lockdown; this is tweaking our parameters at the edges.

“The fact of the matter is, a lot of the transmission, as far as we can tell … is in private settings. So, we’ve got to stay on the bullhorn, keep pleading with folks (to) battle against that fatigue. This is not forever and always. We’ve got a six-month window basically to keep this thing in check. And, then, with the vaccines, such as the one that Pfizer has announced today, we’ll be in a dramatically different place, not entirely in the clear, but a dramatically different and better place as much as six months from now.”

Murphy added some color to what those restrictions may be, hinting at changes in bars and restaurants and with high school sports.

“We’re going to shave at the edges,” he said. “For instance, we’ve seen that, if you sit at a bar, there’s a much higher likelihood of a transmission. Restaurants that stay open late, folks let their hair down later than earlier.”

New Jersey Advance Media reported Monday morning that Murphy is expected to announce a 10 p.m. closing of all indoor activity.

Murphy will announce three changes for restaurants and bars:

  1. There must be closed from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
  2. The state will allow for increased capacity of some sort, if additional Plexiglas barriers are put in place.
  3. The state will allow “igloo”-type dining outdoors, as other states have.

In regard to sports, Murphy was clear to note restrictions would not involve college sports (and, thus, presumably professional) or even high school sports between two teams from within New Jersey. It is the larger travel tournaments that include teams from other states may be impacted.

Murphy indicated that, when a vaccine is available, he does not foresee the state mandating it — feeling most individuals will feel the need to do so on their own.

I think notwithstanding a vocal but minority anti-vax bloc in our state and in, frankly, probably in every state, I believe folks will get there of their own free will,” he said.

Other thoughts from Murphy during the approximately 8-minute interview:

On testing, and investments in testing, based on the vaccine news:

“We test per capita probably among the highest, if not the highest state in the country,” he said. “The federal government, to their enormous credit, has been very good in helping us with the resources we need for that. I think that stays at the level it’s at right now.

“So, when we’ve got a community hotspot, we surge resources — and high on that list is our testing: testing, tracing, compliance, public service bullhorn announcements … in multiple languages. I think that still remains part of our arsenal here for the foreseeable future.”

On how the need for a stimulus may change:

“I don’t think it does in the near term,” he said. “We still need that bridge over troubled water that we started to build as a nation in the spring (and) into the early summer quite effectively, and then the rug was pulled out from under so many.

“Where do we need stimulus? I can’t think of a piece of our state or any state right now that doesn’t need it. So, we’re talking about state and local budgets, folks who are unemployed, small businesses, especially restaurants and hospitality, health care systems, transit systems, we need it.

“I will just repeat what I’ve said to you guys before: History will not be unkind if we overshoot here. I think it’ll be potentially devastatingly unkind — and the consequences are enormous — if we undershoot, even with a vaccine.

“Six months from now, if you’re unemployed right now, that might as well be six years. We need it still right now.”

On how vaccine news impacts President-elect Joe Biden’s view on COVID-19 and the economy.

“I think it’ll change it for the good,” he said. “And that’s not to say that we haven’t found common ground with the (President Donald) Trump administration on COVID in our desperate hours of need. But, what we haven’t had is a coherent national strategy and we will get that with a Biden administration, without question. In fact, you’re seeing it already. He’s announced a group of wise men and women already today.

“That, I think is the tip of the spear, and I think you’ll see a real belief in the good that stimulus can do to bridge our economies into a brighter and better day. So, I think it’s a huge plus on both COVID, as well as the belief and passion around a big federal stimulus that again will connect us from a very tough time today to that that better future tomorrow.”