Murphy, during last COVID-19 briefing, talks of ‘return to normal’

Gov. Phil Murphy, holding his 257th and final COVID-19 briefing, joked about bringing the entire band back together.

Joined by Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, State Epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan, Department of Health Communicable Disease Service Medical Director Dr. Ed Lifshitz and State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan, he reflected on the briefings — which began when he was in the hospital, recovering from cancer surgery that took place just days before COVID began to take hold in our region.

“Today marks the two-year anniversary of our first confirmed case of COVID-19,” he said. “I received the news while in bed recuperating from cancer surgery which was performed earlier that day. For Judy, the news was a most unwelcome birthday present.

“Since then, counting today, we’ve brought you — whether here at this table or at locations throughout the state — some 257 updates on our progress in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“But this anniversary is the right time for us to end these in-person briefings. As coronavirus moves from pandemic to endemic, and as we transition away from crisis management to a more normal way of life, it is the right time.”

Murphy said the residents of New Jersey deserve the accolades on this day.

“We have asked so much of each and every New Jerseyan for the past two years,” he said. “You have overwhelmingly delivered and then some. We’re at this point only because of your dedicated work to protect yourselves, your families and your communities.

“I know you are exhausted, both mentally and physically, and ready to return to normal. And let there be no doubt, so are we.

“We’ve persevered and fought and persevered and fought some more. That’s why we’re at this point today. With all we have done to ensure the preparedness of our health care system and with the advent of both the vaccines and treatments, we are ready to move forward and to not live our lives in fear.”

Murphy said this while looking back. He reflected on some of the toughest moments of the pandemic: Calling family members who had lost loved ones. He often shared those stories during his briefings.

“We began our practice of telling their stories when we had to make the hard decision to keep families and friends from gathering for funerals,” he said. “In lieu of those somber ceremonies, we turned these few minutes of our regular briefings into that time of remembrance. We mourned not just as individual families or communities, but as an entire state.

“Even after the restriction limiting funeral attendance was lifted, along with our flags, we continued bringing you these pictures and stories. Every life lost to COVID was worth honoring and remembering, and we endeavored to tell as many as we could.

“We never wanted any life reduced to being just a number.”

Murphy said he spoke with well over 1,000 family members.

Murphy, choking up as he spoke, asked for one final moment of silence for the more than 30,000 lives lost.

Murphy gave thanks to those at the Economic Development Authority, who have run so many programs that have helped companies during the pandemic, and the Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

He also gave thanks to his bandmates.

“First and foremost, to my partners up here at the table — Judy and Pat, who’ve been with me for nearly every single one of these briefings, and Christina and Ed, who made a terrific tag team of expertise: Thank you, not only for helping us to educate and inform, but even more for all you and your teams did throughout the course of the past two years to direct our response,” he said.

“I also want to thank the tremendous team here at the Trenton War Memorial who allowed us to set up shop in this ballroom and, well, basically never leave. To the team from the Office of Information Technology and Innovation who brought you the livestream every day, thank you.

And thank you, as well, to the host of sign-language translators who ensured that every New Jerseyan could be part of this process.”

He also thanked the media, which he said asked a total of 6,211 questions.

“Some of the questions were even on-topic,” he said.

In the end, he thanked the viewers.

“I have to thank, again, each and every single one of you out there watching,” he said “You put in the hard work.

“And, as we move to this next phase, all I can say is this — be safe, be smart, enjoy the oncoming spring and warm weather, enjoy getting together with family and friends, and, one last time, don’t be a knucklehead.”