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

Murphy seeks distance with Cuomo on pandemic response as re-election looms

Republicans want to tie New York, New Jersey governors

By Nikita Biryukov, March 22 2021 4:45 pm

This article was updated with comment from State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) at 10:38 p.m.

Gov. Phil Murphy sought to put space between his administration’s response to COVID-19 and those of neighboring New York as Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces a growing number of sexual harassment allegations and persistent criticism of his administration’s miscounting of nursing home deaths.

“We began listing probable deaths in June. That’s nine months ago, so there’s no denying we were clobbered,” Murphy said. “There’s no denying the losses of life and the tragedy associated with it. There’s also no denying the black and white nature of the directives and, as early as we could posting any of the potential probable deaths.”

Cuomo’s trouble over nursing homes ballooned in January, when New York Attorney General Letitia James reported the state had undercounted COVID-19 deaths by more than 3,800.

There’s been no indication that’s the case in New Jersey. As Murphy said, the state began reporting probable virus deaths in the summer and is still working through to determine which of those are related to the virus, though the state pulled 1,400 long-term care deaths from its count last May. It’s not clear how many have been added back to the total.

But Republicans have also singled out a March health directive that ordered long-term care facilities to readmit and segregate residents who had tested positive for the virus but were medically stable.

They charge that policy catalyzed thousands of deaths — which have climbed to 7,972 as of Monday — among residents in such facilities early in the pandemic.

Democrats view nursing home deaths as a major vulnerability as Murphy heads into re-election, and Murphy repeated his defense on that count Monday.

“The directives were crystal clear about separating different floors, different wings, different buildings, including for staff,” he said. “If that weren’t enough, Judy had the courage, and I give her credit again for this to hire an outside firm, completely independent of us, to hold a mirror up on our whole process.”

That review recommended increased staffing levels and oversight at nursing homes, among other things, but did little to stymy Republican attacks.

“Admitted or newly admitted patients could not be denied entrance solely based on a Covid positive test. The same directive prohibited testing,” State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) said. “How can the Governor’s say facilities had to separate and quarantine patients and yet prohibit testing?”

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