As he faces growing pressure from lawmakers and business leaders to further ease his near-lockdown restrictions to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy says he’s considering allowing more New Jersey businesses to reopen with curbside service or other social-distancing guidelines.
“We’re looking at that,” Murphy said Wednesday during his daily coronavirus press briefing in Trenton. “That’s something we want to get to.”
“But you look at the progress we’re making, that’s because people are staying home,” the governor added. “They’re not going out. And that’s the sort of still guiding principle here.”
“We do know social distancing is probably the best weapon we’ve got,” the governor continued. “If we can do that responsibly, you can assume that’s on the list of things we want to do. … Stay tuned.”
Officials announced Wednesday that New Jersey, a state of 9 million residents, has now seen at least 131,890 COVID-19 cases and 8,549 deaths attributed to the virus in two months. Only New York has more among American states.
But with Memorial Day less than three weeks away, a debate has been getting louder over Murphy’s orders requiring residents to stay home, banning gatherings, and mandating nonessential businesses close to fight the virus. New Jersey is now in its seventh week under the orders.
That’s as the state grapples with hundreds of thousands of people filing for unemployment and businesses suffer untold revenue losses.
Murphy made his first major step to lifting the orders this past weekend, as he allowed state and county parks and golf courses to reopen, with restrictions.
Still, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney said Monday the governor should move “forward with the economy” by permitting other businesses to reopen by Memorial Day, as long as they follow social-distancing guidelines — like eateries and essential stores allowed to remain open.
Murphy provided no definitive timetable Tuesday and stressed Wednesday that officials have to be careful because hundreds of residents are still dying every day and more than 5,000 residents are still hospitalized with the virus.
Murphy said the state began taking “baby steps” with the parks reopening, and that has “gone well.” But he said there are “enormous unknowns associated with this.”
NJ Advance Media reported earlier Wednesday that public health experts say New Jersey can’t rush reopening because there’s a risk of a second, stronger wave.