As new cases of the COVID-19 outbreak begin to plateau across the Mid-Atlantic, the governors of New Jersey and many surrounding states announced they will collaborate on a regional roadmap to reopen their state economies, which have been in near lock-down for the past month to stop the spread of the virus.
The governors of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island will each pick a public health and economic development figure, along with their office’s chief of staff, to make up this regional task force. Later on Monday, Massachusetts announced it would also take part.
States on the West coast, including California, announced a similar plan in recent days.
“We should start looking forward to reopening, but reopening with a plan and a smart plan, because if you do it wrong it can backfire,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, told reporters on a telephone press conference.
Cases in New York have begun to plateau, Cuomo said, or the “curve” has “flattened.” But Gov. Phil Murphy said that this hasn’t played out in New Jersey; the state is “a couple of beats behind New York,” and has not quite reached that level.
“We’re not there yet,” Murphy said. “Getting this right, both the timing… the infrastructure form… both health care experts, as well as economic development experts in addition to our government colleagues, seems to me, and to us, to be an incredibly smart way to go.”
As of Monday, a total of 64,584 New Jerseyans tested positive for COVID-19, with 2,443 fatalities and 7,781 hospitalizations.
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.
“Could you see something like… a bar or a restaurant, someone’s maybe taking your temperature… on the outside. Inside you’ve got gloved and masked servers. You’ve got a heightened standard of wiping down surfaces, you’re at most 50 percent capacity and X feet between one table and the next,” Murphy said. “[E]arly on that may be part of our reality.”
The New Jersey governor has also eyed restricting movement into New Jersey for people coming from states that have instituted far less stringent social distancing measures, such as Florida.
And, he said, the state needs to be able to conduct large-scale testing and with a much quicker turnaround.
U.S. President Donald Trump has thrown a large bulk of his weight behind reopening the national economy as soon as possible – he tweeted that “it is the decision of the president” to make that decision – as state governments put their economies in near-total lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
To that end, Trump on Monday announced the creation of a seven-member advisory Council to Reopen America, which will include his daughter Ivanaka Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“I have the great responsibility of being the chief executive officer in the state, representing the safety and security of 9 million people, and that is something that is unequivocal, and I have to make sure I get that right,” Murphy responded later in the day, adding that he “would hope that we could do that in harmony with the federal government.”
The six governors maintained that doing things out of order, like lifting restrictions before the outbreak is contained, will make the situation worse.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont for example, cautioned of the new waves of COVID-19 outbreaks that have swept across East Asia as countries begin to reopen their economies, something that he said “would be so demoralizing.”
Tight restrictions have touched upon every aspect of daily life in the state and nationwide, such as the banning of gatherings of any size and the closure of most “non-essential” retail businesses.
Even those businesses deemed essential, such as pharmacies, grocery stores and take-out restaurants, are now required to limit how many patrons can enter the establishment at any one time, and for people to wear face coverings.
All of this, proponents argue, starves the virus of any fresh hosts to which it could spread.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:46 p.m. EST on April 13, 2020 to include the updated number of COVID-19 cases in New Jersey, additional comments from Gov. Phil Murphy and information regarding President Donald Trump’s establishment of the Council to Reopen America. This story was updated at 6:06 p.m. EST on April 13, 2020 to include Massachusetts participation in the regional effort.