TRENTON, NJ – New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Monday said the increase of COVID-19 in New Jersey to levels which would put it on its own quarantine list if it was another state was sobering. Murphy said he and his staff are now mulling “what-if” scenarios as winter rolls into New Jersey and cases continue to climb. Options on the table include rolling back indoor capacity limits just days after he sent a mixed message that appeared he could be on the verge of raising capacity limits statewide.
“The limiting of capacity is on the list. I mean, we’ve said that before. We already have, on the indoor side, among the lowest limits around. Is that something that’s on the table? Yes. But again, the capacities that we believe right now are contributing to the bulk of the cases are those gatherings that are beyond our ability to regulate and/or properly enforce,” Murphy said. “I would be lying to you if I didn’t say, and I think the folks to my right who are the health experts and the guy to my left who helps enforce compliance, these numbers are sobering, I have to say. So we are wargaming a whole lot of potential steps that we can take, whether it’s indoor or outdoor or both dining to try to relieve some of this burden without adding to our already rising numbers.”
Murphy added he and his administration are trying to figure it all out as they go, but despite turning down a bill that could help restaurants and reversing course on increasing capacity limits, the devastated restaurant industry will, at some point get some state relief, which has been non-existent since the pandemic began eight months ago.
“Listen, we’re working, we’re wargaming, I was part of a pretty intense discussion today about steps we could take to help our restaurant industry, particularly as the weather gets colder,” he said, once again admitting that indoor dining is not contributing to the ‘new wave’ of the pandemic at all, according to data held closely by the state. “I have to say, we don’t have any evidence that indoor dining per se is contributing to this. But we also have to be pretty — and your question gets to this — we not only have to help our restaurants, but we’ve got to, I think, be consistent in the plea for responsibility among the citizenry. We don’t want to cross purposes on those.”
The Governor has used the term scalpel, instead of brute force for future handling of business and restaurant regulations. Since the pandemic began, Murphy has governed the crisis from a bully pulpit, leaving the state’s legislature and senate out of most pandemic planning operations. Instead, Murphy’s tight inner circle has been the driving force behind the state’s response to COVID-19 since the outbreak began in March. Murphy mentioned Ocean County and Lakewood couple be the first areas to undergo his impending “scalpel” plan if numbers don’t improve.
“On the scalpel steps, everything remains on the table. I would just say we talk to communities literally all the time,” he said. “Right now, I mean, the biggest concern we had over the past sort of two to three weeks, Judy, was Lakewood and some communities around Lakewood, but Ocean is still over 100 today. We take all of those cases seriously but there are almost 1,200 cases in the state today. Things are on the table but again, we’re looking at community spread right now in a lot of different places in the state. I will say it again, that’s going to be up to all of us individually to do the right things, particularly when you’re in a private setting that we can’t regulate and that we can’t reasonably enforce.”