Life in New Jersey with the COVID-19 pandemic – with all its social distancing measures – will create a new normal for the state even after businesses are allowed to reopen, as long as the virus hangs in the air, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Wednesday.
“The notion that we’re going to go back to some sort of, ‘let’s just turn the clock back to three months ago’, I just don’t see it,” Murphy said Wednesday afternoon at his daily press conference in Trenton. “People talk about a new normal and I think that’s a reality.”
As New Jersey and states around the country begin to hit the peak of the global pandemic, talks have been underway at multiple levels of government on just how to reopen the local and nationwide economy.
“A normal gathering in the foreseeable future, I just don’t see it,” the governor added.
Dine-in restaurants might be able to reopen, but would operate at 50 percent capacity, Murphy suggested. Tables would be spaced at least 6 feet apart, temperatures or rapid-saliva tests would be taken at the restaurant’s entrance, and wait staff would wear gloves and masks.
“Industries that rely on density – entertainment, restaurants, hospitality – those are hard-hit,” New Jersey Economic Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Tim Sullivan told NJBIZ last week in an editorial interview.
“That being said, some of New Jersey’s strongest industries are going to be critical to winning the war, not just in New Jersey but around the country and around the world,” Sullivan added. “Top of that list, pharmaceuticals, life sciences and biotech.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 71,030 COVID-19 positive cases in the state, including 3,156 fatalities and 8,270 hospitalizations.
“The big handshake, kiss on cheek, hug, high-five: I think that’s postponed for the foreseeable future,” Murphy said, referencing a recent Harvard University study which suggested that these stringent measures could stay in place until 2022.
Until a reliable and scientifically proven vaccine can be mass produced and administered – not likely until 2021 – the reopening of businesses will have to be gradual and social distancing measures must be kept in place.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone who lives in the field who thinks a vaccine, sooner than a year or a year and a half, is realistic,” he added on Wednesday.
Lacking a vaccine, mass testing would be required at a level not yet reached in the state, Murphy said. The recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Rutgers University’s saliva-based COVID-19 test has shown promise, Murphy said, and the university along with Middlesex County launched a limited pilot program on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, New Jersey said it was joining a seven-state task force along with Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island to put out a regional road map for reopening their state economies. States on the West Coast, including California, announced a similar plan in recent days.
According to Murphy’s office, the task force would look at how to “ease social isolation without triggering renewed spread,” which could include “testing, contact tracing, treatment and social distancing.”
That task force will complement a “skunkworks team” at the state-level to look at how New Jersey can reopen its economy, Murphy said.
And U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing for economies across the nation to open as soon as next month, putting together a council that would explore just that goal.
The president indicated Wednesday at a White House press briefing that in some states, at least, the peak has already been reached, and the council can begin putting out guidelines for how states can relax those restrictions.
“These encouraging developments have put us in a position to finalize guidelines for states on opening the country,” Trump said.
A news conference with those guidelines for “various states” will come out Thursday afternoon, the president added.
“[R]eturning to work will be gradual, phased-in, and will vary by factors such as location, sector, business type or size, and the health status of workers,” reads an April 13 statement from U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Clark. “It also will require continued social distancing, expanded use of personal protective equipment, and other counter-measures.