Gov. Phil Murphy tapped former officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to represent New Jersey in a seven-state council that will gauge how to reopen the regional economy once the COVID-19 pandemic winds down.
Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting director at the CDC, a position he held for six months in 2009 under U.S. President Barack Obama, is one of the officials tapped by Murphy. He has been the president and chief executive officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation since 2017. The governor also named Jeh Johnson, who was the nation’s fourth Secretary of Homeland Security, between 2013 and 2017, to the team. Between 2009 and 2012, he served as a Senate-confirmed presidential appointee in the role of general counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense. He is currently a partner at the influential law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.
The chiefs of staff at the governor’s offices for each of the eight states – a position filled by George Helmey in New Jersey – will also be part of the council.
The seven-state council, featuring New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, will collaborate on a regional roadmap. All member states’ economies have been in a near-total state of lockdown in a bid to stomp out the spread of the COVID-19 virus and deprive it of any new potential hosts.
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.”
The task force will complement a “skunkworks team” at the state-level to look at how New Jersey can reopen its economy, Murphy said.
But that could take a while – months or years – he said.
“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.”
“A normal gathering in the foreseeable future, I just don’t see it,” the governor added.
Cases in New York have begun to plateau, New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week, or the “curve” has “flattened.” New Jersey has been flattening too, Murphy said, but the pandemic is at a stage where a second wave could sweep through the state if restrictions are loosened.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article referred to Jeh Johnson as a “career lawyer” within the U.S. Department of Defense; in fact, Johnson served as general counsel at DOD, as a Senate-confirm presidential appointee. The post was updated at 7:28 a.m. EST on April 17, 2020.