Gov. Phil Murphy said he’s extending the state’s public health emergency stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak for another 30 days, even as the pandemic slows down and restrictions meant to stop the spread of the virus are slowly lifted.
Under state law, the public emergency has to be renewed every 30 days—the state of emergency can go on indefinitely.
The 30-day extension also applies to the myriad of executive orders Murphy has enacted since mid-March in a bid to halt the spread of the virus. Those have placed New Jersey in a virtual state of lockdown, and include a ban on public gatherings and non-essential travel, as well as the closure of most types of businesses.
“As we move forward with our restart and recovery plan, maintaining access to all resources available is essential,” Murphy said Thursday in a statement. “Extending the Public Health Emergency allows us to continue to work to save lives, while safely and securely reopening our state’s economy.”
Murphy has only in recent weeks begun lifting restrictions, most of them for outdoor activities, and only in recent days announced that non-essential retail, outdoor dining and hair salons can resume business later this month.
Those all make up “stage two” of the state’s three phases of reopening.
Indoor activities such as casinos, malls, theaters, indoor dining, libraries and museums fall into stage three, and are still banned, under the order. Casinos, Murphy said, could hopefully be reopened by July 4 weekend.
The administration has also slowly rolled out other vital aspects to keep the virus at bay, including mass testing for the virus, which now is available to any state residents and not just those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
Hospitalizations, fatalities and new cases have all consistently dropped week over week – promising signs, the governor said.
But details have been scant on the widely expected “contract tracing” plan for how state and local health officials would identify, track and isolate potential new cases of the virus.
So far, it’s evident that this plan would require a dedicated “corps” of nearly 10,000 contact tracers; people with roots in their communities, so that confirmed and potential cases would actually be forthcoming with information, according to state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
The state is purchasing the program CommCare from technology firm Dimagi, which will enable public health officials to centralize data collection to go after potential spikes in new cases.
“The hope is that as the spikes happen, we can react faster, we can do better testing, contact tracing around it, and you can prevent those spikes from becoming these huge forest fires,” Dr. Edward Lifshitz, communicable disease medical director at the state’s health department, said on Monday.
A final piece needed for a total reopening – barring a vaccine or effective therapeutic for the virus – is to ensure that health care infrastructure is in place so the state would not be blindsided by a highly-expected second wave.
That means the state needs enough ventilators, staffing and bed space for COVID-19 patients, and personal protective equipment for the state’s hospitals and health care centers.