Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday he is coordinating with the governors of New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania on a regional approach to lifting restrictions in place to stem the COVID-19 pandemic and letting businesses resume normal operations, as Murphy extends the New Jersey’s public health emergency for another 30 days.
“Just as we had a regional approach to dealing with the upside of the curve and we still do, we discussed in a general sense a regional approach to … the reopening, slowly and responsibly whenever that moment comes, of businesses,” Murphy said Tuesday afternoon at the Trenton War Memorial theater in the state capital about his conversations with the governors of Pennsylvania and New York.
As of Tuesday, there were 44,416 cases of COVID-19 in the state, and 1,232 total deaths.
“If we do it on a regional basis, just as we did when we closed the economy and we closed our states, we’ll be a lot better off,” Murphy said.
Recent state and Rutgers-Camden data is showing early signs that the COVID-19 outbreak curve is finally flattening and efforts are paying off to enforce strict statewide and regional social distancing.
But Murphy warned on Tuesday that continuing that trend is “going to require many more weeks – at least – of our being smart and staying at least at all times six feet apart.”
While the governor’s state of emergency can go on indefinitely, he has to renew the public health emergency every 30 days or let it expire. The declaration gives Murphy the authority to more easily move around government money toward the state’s COVID-19 response, and receive federal aid.
State officials, lawmakers and business groups have also been eyeing just how they can get New Jersey’s economy moving again, once those restrictions are lifted.
That could likely be a skunkworks committee to gauge the order in which restrictions should be lifted, and a business advocacy position within the governor’s office.
In a bid to starve the COVID-19 virus of any in-person contact that could provide it with new hosts, Murphy has ordered the closure of tens of thousands of “non-essential” retail businesses. In the process, grinding commerce to a halt and leading to soaring joblessness.
On Tuesday, Murphy said he plans to sign an order closing any state and county parks in New Jersey, in addition to the one extending the state’s public health emergency.
The parks order does not extend to municipality-operated entities, but local governments still have the option to order those closures.
“We have seen too many instances where people are gathering in groups in our parks, erroneously thinking that since they’re outside, social distancing doesn’t matter,” Murphy said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The tri-state coordination, Murphy added, will also focus on how to avoid a widely-expected resurgence – or second wave – of COVID-19.
“The contact tracing is going to have to be a big part of making sure that … the house doesn’t catch on fire again,” Murphy said.
“There’s going to have to be infrastructure,” he said. “What do restaurants look like? Do you have someone with a temperature gun outside? Do you have protocols for servers, capacity and distance?”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown similar interest in such a “regional, metropolitan tri-state approach” with New Jersey and Connecticut.
“We have to start planning – restarting life – we’re not there yet, but this is not a light switch that we could just flick one day and everything goes back to normal,” Cuomo said at a news briefing in Albany earlier Tuesday. “We’re going to have to restart that economy, we’re going to have to restart a lot of systems that we abruptly shut down.”
Murphy has previously floated the idea of down the road imposing travel restrictions or people coming into New Jersey from states that were slow to adopt social distancing measures, if at all.
“We can’t make the folks go through the pain that … we’re going through together, just to emerge and find that some other state didn’t take this as seriously, that they were basing decisions that weren’t based on science and data and fact, and therefore through a backdoor, we reignited the fire,” Murphy said on March 31.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. EST on April 7, 2020 to include additional comments from Govs. Phil Murphy and Andrew Cuomo and to include Connecticut in the list of regional collaborators.