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

Murphy announces framework to reopen New Jersey

No clear timeline for state’s economic restart

By Nikita Biryukov, April 27 2020 2:59 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy announced four measures he wants in place before the state moves to reopen an economy all but shuttered by the COVID-19 crisis, adding that restrictions imposed to blunt the spread of the virus will remain in effect until he says otherwise.

“Public health creates economic health. That’s the order in which we must proceed,” Murphy said Monday. “It means that before we reopen non-essential stores and businesses, before we can reopen our parks, or before we allow in-person dining in our restaurants — among any host of other activities — people need to know, first and foremost, that their health will be safeguarded from COVID-19.”

Murphy’s plan, dubbed “The Road Back,” stipulates that the state won’t begin to open up until New Jersey sees “appreciable and sustained” declines in the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

The governor also wants the state’s testing capacity to at least double and for testing to be available to all New Jersey residents.

Up until now, almost all testing for the virus in the state has been dedicated to symptomatic individuals.

“We will have a flexible testing plan that is accessible to all residents who need it – whether it be through walk-up and drive-thru sites, tests at local pharmacies, or even at-home testing capabilities,” Murphy said. “We will prioritize testing for health-care workers, other essential workers, and vulnerable populations.”

Murphy said he expects the state’s testing capacity to have doubled by the end of May.

He declined to give an exact date for when the state would begin easing restrictions but said it was a matter of weeks and not a matter of months.

The governor also wants to beef up the state’s contact tracing capacity and create isolation and quarantine spaces for residents who test positive for or are exposed to COVID-19.

After that, Murphy is planning a tiered restart of the state’s economy that will see more-essential businesses that can better ensure adherence to social distancing measures open before less-essential firms and those that cannot commit to spacing their patrons.

The decisions about which businesses get to operate when will be made by Restart and Recovery Commission, whose members Murphy plans to announce on Tuesday.

“It will be their task to balance multiple competing needs to ensure we arrive at equitable decisions that work for every community in our state,” the governor said.

Murphy is also moving to prepare the state for a resurgence of COVID-19.

To that end, the state plans to build its own stockpile of personal protective equipment and ventilators as well as create a response plan for future pandemics.

“We cannot think of COVID-19 as a one-and-done,” Murphy said. “Whether we are hit with a rebound of COVID-19, or a different strain, or an altogether new virus outbreak, we have learned valuable lessons that we would be foolish to ignore.”

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