New Jersey is likely more at risk than other states for a second wave of the coronavirus this year, but the Garden State is better prepared to handle it now than it was just a month ago, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.
Murphy was asked about the possibility of a second COVID-19 wave as he gave a radio interview on WFAN’s “Moose and Maggie Show.” He didn’t provide specific data showing it’s probable but pointed to how New Jersey is “the densest state in America“ and “in the densest region in America.”
”We’re probably more at risk than other parts of the country,” he said, adding that similar viruses in the past have shown “a propensity to come back in the fall/winter.”
Still, Murphy stressed that the state’s effort to expand testing and hire contact tracers could decrease the chance of having to order widespread closures again.
”Before you put the emergency brake on your entire state, if you’ve got the testing and contact tracing and a plan to isolate in place, you probably can’t bat 1,000, but you’ve got a lot better chance of snuffing it out without shutting the whole place down,” he said.
Later Wednesday, Murphy announced at his daily briefing in Trenton that the state has reached its goal of testing at least 20,000 people a day — which he said is a key step to further reopen the economy and protect against future spikes in cases.
All of this came hours after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top infectious disease expert, said a second wave of COVID-19 in the U.S. “could happen” but is “not inevitable” if states reopen correctly.
“Don’t start leapfrogging over the recommendations of some of the guidelines, because that’s really tempting fate and asking for trouble,” Fauci told CNN on Wednesday morning.
Murphy said he spoke with Fauci during a video call Tuesday, and Fauci gave “the most optimistic assessment of a second wave that I’ve heard from his mouth.”
“It wasn’t any different assessment as to the probability of a second wave,” the governor said. “It was through testing, infrastructure, and contact tracing infrastructure and isolation capacity, that we were far better equipped to deal with a second wave than we either were for the first wave as a country, or than we had been prepared in the past for second waves of things like H1N1.”
New Jersey, a state of 9 million residents, has seen its COVID-19 outbreak slow significantly in recent weeks, with the number of hospitalizations and daily cases dropping almost daily.
Murphy said that has allowed him to gradually ease the near-lockdown restrictions he placed the state under in late March to fight the virus.
But nonessential businesses remain limited to curbside service, restaurants remain limited to takeout or delivery, and residents are still ordered to stay home as much as possible.
With the state’s economy cratering during the pandemic, numerous lawmakers, businesses, and residents have continuously pressed Murphy to allow more businesses to operate, as long as they follow social-distancing guidelines in place at essential businesses.
Murphy was asked how much of an uptick in the numbers would the state have to see to start closing things down again. He said “it won’t be a day or two” he uses in his evaluations.
“You have to look at these things on rolling averages,” the governor said. “In some cases, three days, and in most cases, seven-day averages. It would have to be a meaningful shift in the wrong direction. The good news is — and this is a light-years difference from even a month ago — we’ve now got a very significant testing capacity. … We’re much better equipped right now.”
New Jersey has reported at least 11,339 deaths attributed to COVID-19, with 156,628 cases, since the outbreak began here March 4. Only New York has more deaths and cases among American States.
Officials on Wednesday announced 148 new deaths and 970 new positive tests in New Jersey.
Murphy has said the state is getting closer to Stage 2 of its multi-stage reopening plan, though he has yet to provide hard dates or data benchmarks the state needs to hit.
“We are now well past the peak,” he said at his briefing.
The 15 Republican members of the state Senate sent Murphy, a Democrat, a letter Wednesday calling on him to provide more detailed data and insight into how he is deciding which restrictions to lift and which to keep in place.
“Given the benefit of time and what we have learned, we believe it makes sense to let New Jerseyans resume their lives without the continuation of arbitrary restrictions that do little today to keep them safe,” the legislators wrote. “If you believe public health data does not warrant that level of freedom, we encourage you to clearly explain why and to tell us, specifically, what must change. The people of New Jersey deserve to know.”
More than 1.1 million New Jersey residents have filed for unemployment since mid-March, causing the state’s unemployment rate to surge to 15.3%, though the number of claims has fallen in recent days. Many say they’ve been waiting for weeks to get paid and have struggled with the state’s busy phone and online systems.
Meanwhile, Murphy’s administration announced Friday it plans to cut $1.3 billion in state spending thanks to plummeting tax revenue. The governor has warned of massive public-worker layoffs if the federal government doesn’t provide more direct aid to states.