Murphy: We are in the middle phase of stage two in New Jersey

TRENTON, NJ – On Monday. June 22nd, Governor Phil Murphy gave a speech on the state of affairs in New Jersey.  Here is what he said:

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for your patience. As we predicted, our schedule is going to be a little bit jumbled today, so I appreciate your bearing with us. I’m joined by the woman to my right who needs no introduction, the Commissioner of the Department of Health, Judy Persichilli. To her right, another familiar face, the State’s Epidemiologist, Dr. Christina Tan. To my far left, another name you know well, the Superintendent of the State Police, Colonel Pat Callahan. And it is a particular honor to be joined by the woman to my left, who also needs no introduction, my partner in government, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, and importantly the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, Sheila Oliver. Sheila, great to have you.

Today we are entering what I think should be considered as the middle phase of stage two of our restart and recovery. I should say upfront, we have a lot of ground to cover today, so please bear with us. This is the next step in our road back. Today, personal care businesses across the state are all reopening, with protocols and safeguards in place to give clients and staff alike confidence that their health and protecting them from the coronavirus are our top priorities. Additionally today, organized sports teams are again able to begin non-contact practices and drills, the first step in athlete conditioning as they prepare for a return to competition in the coming weeks. And, outdoor swimming pools were able to open today as well, just in time for a high humidity, 90-degree day.

One week from today, our shopping malls will reopen their doors to shoppers. By the way, I was interviewed this morning, someone called shopping malls our state bird. By the way, Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, Jared Maples is with us, the Lieutenant Governor’s incredible Chief of Staff Terry Tucker is in the house; great to have you both here.

And beginning today, we are proud to announce even more steps that we are able to take in our restart and recovery, and they’re just the first of what will be multiple reopening announcements we intend to make throughout this week as we finalize our dates. We are able to take these steps to begin these late-stage announcements because we have stayed true to our two overarching principles: first, that public health creates economic health, and second, the data and nothing else decides the dates for our restart. Over the past several weeks, we have reiterated again and again that the most important metrics we are tracking are the current rates of spread of COVID-19 as measured by the daily percentage of tests coming back with a positive result and the realities within our healthcare system and hospitals. And today, we continue to see a rate of spread remaining at a point where we are confident in our ability to continue our restart.

The percentage of positive tests taken on June 17th, which is the last date for which we have complete result data, was just 2.42%. It was not very long ago that we were looking at positivity rates 5% or 6% or many more times that. Today, our transmission rate, our RT, stands at 0.76 and as we’ve discussed, this means that for every new positive test for COVID-19, we see fewer than one other new case. The rate of spread has slowed significantly. As our hospitals were hitting their peak in early to mid-April, the rate of spread was greater than 1:1 and in the weeks prior to that, it was spreading at a rate of more than five times that.

But because of the tough choices we made to implement strong social distancing measures, our requirement to wear face coverings in retail businesses, and our strong recommendation to wear them when outdoors and around others, we have put both our spot positivity and RT in places where we can move forward. Before you switch it, Dan, a couple of quick comments, a little bit of tough love.

I would be lying if I didn’t say two things. One is we all acknowledge the enormous amount of frustration at all the steps we have taken. Coach Greg Schiano of the Rutgers football team reminded me at the end of last week, it is the pain of discipline, where the alternative is the pain of regret. As much as this has been tough on all of you and all of us, it’s not been a lot of fun, the alternative is completely unacceptable.

The second piece of tough love is you could not help but look, and Pat Callahan and I were discussing this a few minutes ago, at viral videos of bars or beaches or boardwalks this weekend and draw a conclusion that folks have let their hair down a little bit too much. And so folks, we can’t do that. We’re taking these steps based on extraordinarily positive data, but we don’t want to look like the other states that have gone through hell, and now they’re going back through hell. We just don’t want to do that. We won’t allow ourselves to do that, and we’ll take the steps as necessary to make sure that we don’t do that. And Judy and her team will be guiding us at every step of the way.

So, the results of these practices, up until now at least, are clear in the data we see from our hospitals. Look at those numbers. It’s a staggering amount of progress. We have come down 85% or more since the peak among the key data sets we follow, both new and total hospitalizations, ICU beds filled and ventilators in use. And just over the past two weeks in the right column, we have seen even further declines across the board of 40% or more. The rate of spread has slowed and our hospitals have regained a tremendous amount of potential capacity and resiliency. But don’t just take our word for it, this is what we’ve done folks, together. Look at this map from the nonprofit COVID Act Now, a consortium of healthcare and public policy leaders from around the nation, including researchers and epidemiologists from Georgetown and Stanford Universities who have been tracking state responses to this emergency. They follow many of the same metrics that we do, by the way.

According to COVID Act Now’s research, New Jersey is one of only four states in America today which it deems as being on track to contain COVID-19. Again, one of four states across the entire country. In this particular analysis, it is Massachusetts, New York, Michigan, and the Great State of New Jersey. This proves that the measures we put in place — again, the pain of discipline, and not the pain of regret, folks — and the hard decisions we made were the right ones. So as a result, and please don’t let your hair down folks, please stay true to this. We are ready to take our next step. So, here we go.

Today, because of the progress we have made, I am pleased to increase the limits on gatherings effective immediately. Outdoor gatherings may now increase from 100 to 250 persons maximum, and we will continue to have no limits for outdoor religious or political activities. But if you’re a part of those, wear something on your face, keep social distance as best you can, wash your hands with soap and water and get tested.

For all indoor gatherings, the new limit is 25% of capacity, but such number cannot now exceed 100 persons; that’s up from 50. The 100-person maximum, again is double what we’ve had in place. Today I am also proud to announce, and this is a big one for Sheila and me both, that the casinos in Atlantic City will reopen on Thursday, July 2, and they operate at 25% of their capacity. This means that thousands of New Jerseyans can get back to work. Additionally, our racetracks will be able to reopen for in-person — that’s including at their sports books and lounges, as long as they abide by applicable gathering limits.

Simultaneously, indoor dining at restaurants and indoor capacity at catering halls statewide will also resume on Thursday, July 2. However at first, and we hope we can do better on this over time, but that will depend on the data, at first all establishments will be limited to just 25% of their indoor capacity, keeping in mind that many restaurants and halls across the state have been able to utilize or expand their outdoor capacities already, especially outdoor dining. Judy I’ve been to four restaurants since last Monday, outdoors; three restaurants, four times outstanding. As we move forward, we fully anticipate being able to increase the indoor number as we feel it is safe to do so.

The further health and safety protocols that will allow for the casinos to reopen are currently being drafted and will be released within the next several days. Several casino operators also plan to open to friends, family and loyal customers first on July 2 to test these new protocols to ensure their efficacy. While this guidance is not yet complete, you should fully expect that they will include mandatory face coverings and masks and health screenings for all visitors and staff, and you should also expect density limits or capacity limits to ensure social distancing while inside the casinos, among other measures.

If any, I hate to say this, folks, but we’re in this together. If any visitor refuses to comply with these simple safeguards, you will be escorted out of the casino. We are not going to tolerate any knuckleheads trying to ruin it for those who wish to enjoy themselves responsibly, those who need to get back to work, especially if those knuckleheads could be spreading COVID-19. Casinos have also offered to partner with state and local health officials to provide as much data as possible for contact tracing, and this agreement also helped inform our decision to move forward with a July 2nd opening date. We also expect to put clear testing protocols in place for casino workers if they ask for a test or begin to show any symptoms.

And the rules for indoor dining, which also will be released in the coming days and will be similar to the requirements in place for outdoor dining, will also extend to the restaurants in our casinos. Just as in the response of regulating gaming itself, nothing is static and our conversations with our friends across the casino industry will continue. I want to give a special shout out to Director Dave Rebuck and the team at the Division of Gaming Enforcement for their tremendous work alongside our casino and labor partners. They aren’t considered the premier gaming regulator globally for nothing, and I mean that. People tell us that from all over the world, that our division of gaming enforcement is second to none in the world.

Additionally, the Lieutenant Governor and her team at the Department of Community Affairs have been undertaking a series of efforts as it relates to Atlantic City’s restart more broadly, and for the businesses and residents in the shadows of the casino properties to be able to thrive. Reopening casinos isn’t the end all be all of revitalizing Atlantic City’s economy. I have asked, as always, my partner extraordinarily, the Lieutenant Governor, to join us to give us a fuller look into the efforts of the department, alongside municipal and business leaders, labor leaders, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the healthcare community, among others within Atlantic City. Our administration has made stabilizing Atlantic City a top priority, whether it be in strengthening local government or diversifying the local economy, and we are not going to let COVID-19 allow those efforts to backslide. So to you, Sheila and your extraordinary team, I thank you for your sustained commitment to a revitalized and thriving Atlantic City and I look forward to hearing more on this great work.

We heard the voices of casino operators and restaurant owners, labor leaders and our community partners loud and clear. But as with everything, we knew we had to see the health metrics continue to fall into place before we could make this announcement. The metrics continue to be of vital importance, and if the current trends change between now and next Thursday, or if we feel uncomfortable with the implementation of the guidance, we will hit pause on the current plan. But frankly, that’s the last thing I or Sheila or any of us want to do. I know that if everyone keeps answering the call of personal responsibility and using their common sense for the common good, we will see these numbers continue to track the right way, and we will get to July 2, as we have planned. And as I mentioned, we intend to make further announcements over the coming days related to a number of additional reopenings, including with respect to other indoor recreational activities.

So as I said, we are entering into the latter phases of stage two of our restart. We have been actively working on this for weeks and are very confident where things are heading. If we continue to be smart, we’ll soon be able to set the date for our entry into stage three, but the only way we can is to keep up with the social distancing, wearing our face coverings, being smart about personal hygiene, and caring for the health and safety of all 9 million of our fellow New Jerseyans. With that, let’s turn to the overnight numbers.

Yesterday we received an additional 359 positive test results and our statewide total is now 169,415. In our long-term care facilities, you can see both the day-over-day change as well as the totals. The number of new cases continues its downward trend, as does the number of associated losses of blessed lives, but we are committed to the health and safety of each and every resident and staff member, and we’ll continue our efforts to protect them and save every life we can.

At our hospitals, the total number of New Jerseyans hospitalized for COVID-19 has decreased to 1,029. Our field medical stations reported 15 patients. The number of patients in either critical or intensive care was 287; 213 ventilators were in use. Yesterday, 46 new patients with COVID-19 were admitted, you can see the totals on the left by region, to our hospitals while 70 live patients left our hospitals, that’s the column on the right.

But even with these positive signs, we must remain vigilant, and we have to keep up, as I said, with our social distancing and wearing face coverings. We’re still a top 10 state in terms of total hospitalizations, and we remain in the top five in the numbers of loss of lives. Social distancing, wearing face coverings are the only way we drop in these rankings. And today, we have the solemn duty to report an additional 27 COVID-19 related deaths. We have now lost a total of 12,895 of our fellow New Jerseyans to this virus. Almost unbelievable. Let’s take a moment, as we do every day, to remember several more of them.

First, we’ll visit Little Falls in Passaic County, the longtime home of Ronnie Cordero. Ronnie was a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and joined the Little Falls Fire Department in 1980, and then since 1982, served as a member of Eagle Hose Company No. 1. He was a responder to Ground Zero on 9/11, served as the Company’s Assistant Chief from 2007 until 2019, and was recognized as Passaic Valley Elks Lodge as their Firefighter of the Year for 2018. Along with fighting fires, Ronnie worked for the Township of Little Falls, and was the Code Enforcement Officer for many years. Even when his community couldn’t gather to send Ronnie off, the bagpipes were played as Ronnie was led to his rest.

His family was his pride and joy, and he leaves behind his wife Jean with whom I had the honor of speaking yesterday. They had two children together, son Ronnie who’s 25 and their daughter, Carla, who’s 20, who’s studying architecture. Ronnie himself was just 61 years old. We thank you, Ronnie for a lifetime of service to our nation and to your community. God bless you and watch over you.

Next we remember Albert Hill Duncan Jr. of Washington Township in Warren County. For 36 years he was employed at University Hospital in Newark, and was the maintenance supervisor for the physical plants. But back home in Washington Township, he also gave much of his time serving as a volunteer fireman. When he wasn’t overseeing buildings at University Hospital or was on an emergency call for the Firehouse, Al dove into his love of motorcycles, or was behind the controls operating his ham radio. He also took special pride in his family and spending time with his beloved wife, Gail, and again I had the honor of speaking with her yesterday, their daughter Kelly and son Scott. He leaves them all behind. Al was 69 years old.

A couple things, Gail and Al would have been married 45 years next month. And by the way, Gail herself was hospitalized for 10 nights with COVID-19. She says she feels good on most days although she’s crushed by Al’s loss, but she wanted me to give a particular shout out to the nurses who served her so mightily at Hunterdon Medical Center, and all the healthcare workers there. We thank Al again for his commitment to his community and to the University Hospital community, especially that relied on him across four decades. May God bless you, Al, and watch over you and your family.

And finally today we head to Dumont in Bergen County, a community I know well, to remember MaryBeth Papetti. She and her husband Caesar called the Borough home for 34 years. MaryBeth was one of our frontline heroes, a registered nurse at CareOne at Livingston Assisted Living. She devoted her career to the nursing profession, starting at Hackensack Hospital, now known as Hackensack University Medical Center, before going back to school to become a registered nurse. She would later serve as the Director of Nursing at multiple long-term care facilities across North Jersey, a profession, Judy, you know well.

She is survived by her husband Caesar with whom I had the great honor of speaking. By the way, they spent 45 years together. MaryBeth also leaves behind her son Scott, and again, I had the honor of speaking with him and her daughter-in-law Courtney. By the way, both Scott and Courtney are educators, God bless you both for that. MaryBeth also leaves her two sisters, Eileen and Barbara, her two brothers, Brian and Richard, along with sisters-in-law Helen and Susan, brother-in-law Michael and numerous nieces and nephews. She will be remembered for doing all she could for those in her care, and for being an inspiration and role model to her colleagues. God bless you, MaryBeth, and all of our healthcare professionals, and the family and friends that you leave behind.

Three more members of our New Jersey family taken by COVID-19. We will remember them as we remember all we have lost, and as we stand in solidarity with all who have been left behind. Several quick things here to shift gears before we turn things over and ask Sheila to weigh in. A couple of things. Number one, we had a very good conversation with the Chief Scientific Officer at Eli Lilly on Friday, Dr. Dan Skovronsky, and that was centered on the development of therapeutics, and there’s a lot of promising activity there. Lilly is not alone, but Lilly stands out and I wanted to give them a shout out.

Also, Judy and I and others got on the call at the end of the week with Dan O’Day, I’m not sure we said, that’s CEO of Gilead, and talked about Remdesivir and the distribution, and that was another good private sector call. Judy, Pat and I were on a call with the White House this morning which was coordinated by Vice President Pence. I thought that was a good discussion and was a particularly good analysis on some of the states which have had flare ups over the past couple of weeks.

I want to switch gears again to reiterate the announcement made over the weekend of the Federal Transit Administration’s commitment to accelerating $766.5 million in federal funds for the Portal North Bridge replacement, and authorized entry into the engineering phase. This is a huge, long-awaited win for New Jersey and for our commuters and beyond us, frankly, for the entire economy of the Northeast Corridor, which by the way, is plus or minus 20% of the United States entire economy.

Since day one of this administration, we have made securing federal funding for the Portal Bridge replacement among our highest priorities. This is a key infrastructure project that we needed to get off the ground, and quickly, if we were to see our overall efforts to restore NJ Transit to a success. We worked this at every level and I took this case directly to President Trump. These efforts are now coming to fruition, and I thank the President and the federal administration for their commitment to this project, and to helping us usher in a new era of safe, modern and reliable mass transit infrastructure for our region.

Finally, before I turn things over to Lieutenant Governor, I want to remember a couple of losses from our New Jersey family that were non-COVID-related. And this is one you’ve got to be in my vintage — Dave, I’m not looking at you, but you’ll know this — Jim Keck passed away over the weekend, one of the great running backs for the Miami Dolphins, died at the age of 73. Again, non-COVID. Born in Lincoln Park in the Great State of New Jersey, Boonton High and then University of Wyoming, Miami Dolphins among other teams. Remember him with Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, forming an incredible backfield and a team that is the only one to this day that went undefeated, Morris County’s own Jim Keck.

But I also want to remember a good friend. Unlike Jim Keck who I did not know personally, I knew this guy very well and many of us, I bet you everyone in this room and many out there knew him as well. If you were a viewer of NJ TV, you may recognize that guy right there, Nick Acocella, as the face of Pasta and Politics, a show that combined his two great loves, Italian food and talking Jersey politics. Nick was a Hudson County native and a New Jerseyan through and through. As I noted yesterday when I learned of his passing, Nick was the kind of guy who could give you a rundown of all the latest political news and gossip, tell you a new pasta recipe and break down with tremendous precision the lineup or bullpen status of his beloved New York Yankees, all by the way, within the same five-minute conversation. He was a friend to so many in our state’s political circles, certainly to our friends in the media, a trusted reporter who put a premium on getting his story right. He was also a scholar of our national pastime, with 20 baseball titles to his credit. Nick was 77 years old, but gone far too soon. I spoke with Nick’s son a few weeks ago, Bart, when I heard that things were not looking great and to you, Bart and your sister and Nick’s wife and the whole Acocella team, God bless you all. Rest easy, my friend Nick. I hope you’re somewhere where the pasta is hot, where baseball’s being played, and there’s something intriguing in the political world to follow.

And now it is my pleasure and honor to introduce my partner in government, the extraordinary Lieutenant Governor of the Great State of New Jersey and the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, please help me welcome the woman who needs no introduction, Sheila Oliver.

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