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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

COVID exposure could upend governor’s last-minute campaign blitz

Murphy quarantining until at least Monday

By Nikita Biryukov, October 21 2020 2:30 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy’s Saturday exposure to COVID-19 from a senior staffer who tested positive for the virus is likely to upend a typically heavy campaign schedule in the final days the election, though the disruption may end up being relatively minimal.

In 2018 and 2019, the governor stormed across the state, stumping for Democrats in competitive congressional and legislative districts multiple times a day, often in several counties each day.

In early October, he said he intended to keep a similarly active schedule this time, with many of this year’s events held digitally to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“We’ll be active,” he said on Oct. 9. “We’re doing a lot of Zoom stuff, whether it’s raising money for folks or actually just getting people fired up, and my guess is if we can do it socially distant and do it properly, we’ll try to do some things in person as well.”

The governor on Wednesday departed an ongoing event at Camden County College in Blackwood minutes after being informed the staffer, with whom he was in close contact on Saturday tested positive, for the virus.

State public health guidelines urge a 14-day quarantine from the time of last contact. Under those guidelines, the exposure could keep Murphy off the campaign trail until Halloween, though his staff suggested he might return to the public eye sooner than that.

“Out of an abundance of caution and in line with the highest levels of commitment to protecting public health, the Governor and First Lady will be canceling their in-person events and voluntarily quarantining through the end of the weekend, and each will take an additional COVID-19 test before they resume any in-person engagements,” Murphy communications director Mahen Gunaratna said.

Before departing, Murphy said he tested negative for the virus on Monday, but the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can incubate for up to 14 days, though it only does so for about six days on average.

He returned another negative test Wednesday afternoon, Gunaratna said.

First Lady Tammy Murphy attended events in the last days of a campaign in past years, both alone and alongside the governor. She also tested negative for the virus Wednesday.

Assuming he continues to test negative, the timeline of the governor’s exposure means he may have a chance to campaign in-person in the days immediately preceding the election.

The Democratic State Committee, which typically announces Murphy’s last-weeks campaign schedule, has made no such announcements this year.

Murphy isn’t the only New Jersey Democrat to see their stump schedule truncated by the virus.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) announced she would begin a two-week quarantine after a childcare provider for her four children tested positive for the virus.

She won’t hold in-person campaign events until at Halloween, at the earliest.

Sherrill quarantined in April after her husband tested positive for COVID-19. The congresswoman reported developing minor symptoms but tested negative for the virus at the time.

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