Gov. Phil Murphy declared a public health state of emergency Monday evening – the first in New Jersey’s history – in the latest effort to stymie the spread of coronavirus, as it infects 111,000 people worldwide and reaches 34 states in the U.S.
His move will bar the kind of price gouging historically common during emergencies and disasters, will allow easier movement of dollars within state and local government toward emergency services, and bypasses the state’s bidding process in order to quickly get supplies to medical workers and emergency personnel. The declaration is also required in order for the state to receive federal emergency aid.
“The State of New Jersey is committed to deploying every available resource, across all levels of government, to help respond to the spread of COVID-19 and keep our residents informed,” Murphy said in a statement accompanying his executive order.
At press time March 10, there are 11 presumed cases of the virus in New Jersey spanning five counties, with another 24 tests underway at state laboratories. The 11 patients are either hospitalized or in self-quarantine at home.
“My administration will continue to work closely with our federal partners to ensure that local health agencies on the front lines of the state’s response are equipped with the resources needed to further prepare our health care system for a broader spread of COVID-19,” the governor added.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that, “many people in the United States will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus. And there’s a good chance many will become sick.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency this weekend; there the number of cases has risen to 142. And, Rick Cotton, who heads the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, tested positive for coronavirus on Monday.
The virus has rattled the stock market and prompted panicked residents to raid stores for cleaning products.
Murphy’s emergency declaration specifically prohibits “excessive price increases” under the state’s consumer fraud act. That bars price increases beyond 10 percent of what the price was “during the normal course of business prior to the state of emergency,” according to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which set up a hotline and online portal to report complaints.
The declaration allows local governments to restrict the sale of any goods and services in order to use them for the outbreak response and allows the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management to restrict citizen’s movements.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli and Col. Patrick Callahan, who heads the New Jersey State Police, are being tasked with overseeing the state’s emergency management.
Both have taken part in daily press calls with reporters, along with Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, giving status updates on the number of confirmed and suspected cases. Their focus on containing the virus has shifted to mitigation rather than prevention: Encouraging people to work from home and school closings for example.