Murphy, in call with Biden, pushes for Gateway Tunnel, more aid (and did we mention Gateway Tunnel?)

Gov. Phil Murphy had his first phone call recently with President-Elect Joe Biden — and he thinks the call is a good sign that there will be a strong relationship between New Jersey and the new administration.

“The president-elect and I covered a number of topics and focused on three main areas,” Murphy said Monday during his COVID-19 briefing. “First, of course, was the pandemic; second was the need for federal stimulus; and the third was moving forward on infrastructure, and, specifically, on the Gateway Tunnel.”

Murphy expressed optimism about the status of the Gateway Tunnel project.

“I’m extremely hopeful that this project will move under President Biden’s administration,” he said. “I offered our administration’s partnership in any way it is needed to get the Gateway Tunnel off the drawing board and into reality. It is simply past time.”

It has been almost three years since the deadline originally given to the Federal Railroad Administration to issue a record of decision after reviewing the Environmental Impact Statement on the Gateway Tunnel. Current Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said recently that he plans to kick the project into high gear to finally get it done.

Murphy also expanded on his discussion with Biden regarding a potential stimulus package.

“History will not dismiss us for going big and bold at this time,” Murphy said. “I told the president-elect that, while we would certainly welcome every penny of assistance in the bipartisan plan currently being negotiated, more is needed.”

In terms of how his administration is working with the current presidential administration, Murphy said President Donald Trump’s team is continuing to help New Jersey, as he has weekly calls with Vice President Mike Pence and has had some conversations with Trump himself.

Other notes from the briefing:

Health metrics

The state did not come close to the record 6,046 new cases it reported Sunday, reporting 3,573 new COVID-19 cases. In total, there have now been 371,579 cases since March.

On Sunday, in hospitals across the state, 269 COVID-19 patients were discharged, while 417 others were admitted. There were also 55 deaths Sunday that are not a part of the total count because they are awaiting lab confirmation.

There have been 17 new deaths confirmed to be from COVID-related complications. In total, that makes 15,550 deaths in the state, with an additional 1,836 probable deaths.

Other hospital numbers:

  • In hospital: 3,346 (3,110 confirmed, 236 awaiting confirmation);
  • In ICU: 637;
  • On ventilators: 391;
  • Rate of transmission: 05;
  • Positivity rate: 4% (from Dec. 3).

Record vote totals

Murphy was thrilled by the number of votes cast during the November general election.

“The total number of votes cast and certified is 4,635,000,” he said. “The previous record was about 3.9 million votes, which was set four years ago. So, not only was the record broken, it was shattered.”

This number was certified by Secretary of State Tahesha Way with the Board of State Canvassers run by the New Jersey Division of Elections. In addition to giving a final number, this certification also confirmed that New Jersey’s 14 electoral college votes will go to Biden.

Contact tracing update

Murphy again gave an update on the contact tracing efforts by the Department of Health, as the number of New Jerseyans not cooperating with tracers has risen to 74%.

“Quite frankly, this is unacceptable,” he said. “We need folks to turn that around. It is extremely critical for contact tracers to get in touch with the close contacts of those who test positive to help us stop the spread of this virus.”

In total, the state now has 30 contact tracers on the ground for every 100,000 residents. All counties in the state except for Bergen, Camden and Morris counties have exceeded that level. Currently, the governor and his administration are on the lookout for Spanish language tracers for non-English-speaking residents.

Murphy knows why a lot of people aren’t cooperating, but still thinks the level of noncompliance will not help his administration track and beat the virus.

“Come on, man. It’s unacceptable,” Murphy said. “The number, frankly, shocked me as I was reviewing it this morning. Completely unacceptable. There’s going to be a bloc of folks that view this as some kind of invasion of privacy. I completely disagree with them, but there are some amount of folks not cooperating, and I’m fearful that bloc will remain sturdy.”

Final word

On the 79th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor:

“Today, we remember all those who have lost their lives and whose memories we will not allow to be lost to time. For the next four years, the Greatest Generation would answer every call, fight on every front and help deliver an Allied victory. The numbers of those who remain from our World War II generation are dwindling, and we honor every single one of them. The entire nation was engaged in that fight, no one shirked their responsibilities or duties. Just as that was how World War II was won, that’s how we will win against COVID-19.”

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