For Murphy, openings met with requests for even more

In election year, governor must balance medical, social science

Gov. Phil Murphy got a lot of flak last week over the reopening of New Jersey. The main issue: He’s not reopening quickly enough.

Seemingly minutes after he announced Thursday that he was increasing indoor dining capacity to 35% and removing the 10 p.m. curfew on eating and drinking establishments — a curfew that was hurting the sector as much as anything — the governor was hit with a number of ‘that’s-great-but-we-need-more’s.

And, after announcing more reopenings for indoor entertainment, a legislator asked: “So, why can’t parents watch their kids play high school sports?”

Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, said this is par for course for an elected official. Especially during an election year.

“It’s always been a balancing act between the medical science and the political science,” he said. “And it’s a difficult one.”

Dworkin feels the November election certainly is on the governor’s mind — but he said that’s not the biggest issue he faces.

“This a particular societal anxiousness taking place right now,” he said. “We’re on the cusp of turning this around because of the vaccines, which we didn’t have six months ago. So, yes, it’s an election year — but it’s also the anticipation that’s going on right now.

“The governor is going to have to find that balance as things are shifting.”

Murphy is going to have to deal with the reality that every opening is going to be met with requests for more. And for more immediately.

Restaurant owners say they can’t wait.

They were happy for the increase — and happier that Murphy finally signed a bill that essentially assures that the same provisions that were around for outdoor dining last summer and fall will be around in the spring.

But, to be fair, it’s not nearly enough for the industry, according to Marilou Halvorsen, the head of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association.

She called it a step in the right direction and said she hopes that number quickly will be increased to 50%.

“I’m going to be a glass half-full person,” she said. “I see all of this as a positive for our industry.”

Republican officials were not as kind.

State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Denville) said the increased capacity at indoor entertainment also should apply to high school events.

“We should be encouraging parents to support their student-athletes and cheer them on from a distance,” he said. “By following common-sense precautions, social distancing and wearing masks, a limited number of family members would be able to enjoy games without risk of spreading the virus.

“Parents find it difficult to believe that they are permitted to watch their kids skate at the rink, but the rules are different for school sports. Like so many other examples, the governor’s policies don’t make any sense when it comes to allowing parents to be present at indoor high school and youth sports games. With a few common-sense precautions, this can be accomplished quickly and safely for the benefit of our student-athletes and families.”

Therein lies the issue. The governor says all decisions are based on data, but few believe him.

“We believe that we can make this expansion without leading to undue stress or further stress on our health care system,” Murphy said.

Of course, the health metrics now are worse than when the governor reopened indoor dining in the fall. And far worse than the summer, when indoor dining was going to be allowed for the Fourth of July weekend, but Murphy changed course just a few days before.

And most feel the fact the curfew was lifted just days before the Super Bowl is not a coincidence. It goes back to Dworkin’s point about balancing medical science and political science.

It figures to be a balancing act for the governor from now until November, Dworkin said.

Dworkin, however, notes that all could change if more vaccines become available.

“If we get past this by May, no one’s going to care in November,” he said.