Gov. Phil Murphy offered a blueprint to reopening New Jersey that at the the end of the COVID-19 crisis will become the “New Normal.”
Murphy invoked how the country’s actions after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 changed how society acted, with his expectations changes being made today and the public’s adaptation to them will be similar.
“After 9/11, new security measures were put into place that we were not accustomed to. Those practices are now part of our routines,” said Murphy. “The aftermath of COVID-19 will be similar. Social distancing will still be the rule of the days ahead.”
The governor unveiled at his daily press briefing May 18 a multi-stage approach to restarting, guided by the Governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission and its complementary Advisory Councils. According to Murphy, the approach offers a methodical and strategic reopening of businesses and activities based on level of disease transmission risk and essential classification.
“We are currently in Stage 1, and we will aim to move through each stage quickly, but also judiciously, with the public health of our communities and all New Jerseyans in mind,” said Murphy.
The governor continued to hammer home to residents and businesses that they should follow state and federal safeguarding guidelines, including social distancing.
“We are counting on all New Jerseyans to continue keeping themselves and their neighbors safe by wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently and limiting gatherings,” said Murphy.
Key Data Metrics
The governor reiterated how steps would only move forward if data improvements in public health continued.
“If public health indicators, safeguarding, or compliance worsen on a sustained basis, we will be prepared to move back to more restrictive stages as well,” said Murphy.
The data points include public health indicators—such as new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, individuals in intensive care, and ventilator use—continuing to trend downward; substantial increase in testing and contact tracing capacity; widespread safeguarding of workplaces; safeguarding and capacity of child care, schools, and transit; and continued public compliance.
The plan has five named stages: Maximum Restrictions, followed by stages 1,2, and 3 and finally New Normal.
The maximum restrictions were ordered when the coronavirus outbreak started in March, centered around the stay-at-home order limiting activities to essential tasks.
Permitted activities and businesses include emergency healthcare; essential construction; manufacturing; and essential retail, including grocery stores and pharmacies.
Murphy noted New Jersey has passed the maximum restriction stage and is currently in Stage 1, which sees restrictions relaxed on low-risk activities if appropriately safeguarded. Phased-in businesses feature places viewed as non-essential, meeting safeguarding and modification guidelines.
The governor said those phased-in already—parks, non-essential construction, curbside retail, drive-in activities, beaches, and elective surgeries—were all due to outside activities being safer at this point.
“Almost everything we have approved at this point are expanded outdoor activities—because the data said we could and best practices note that outside, right now, is safer than inside,” Murphy said.
The first-term Democratic governor said he could not give a firm timeline where he believed the state would be onto the second stage, but hoped by mid-June.
The second stage concentrates on additional activities that can be easily safeguarded. Phased-in businesses may include some personal care services on a limited basis and more work activities at physical locations adhering to safeguarding and modification guidelines.
For the latter, work activities include expanded retail and safeguarded restaurants with outdoor seating. Those in the same stage but with higher capacity limits include indoor dining, museums and libraries.
Included in this stage as well are students returning to modified classrooms, child care with reduced capacity and summer school and summer camps providing limited in-person engagement.
Stage 3 and New Normal
The third stage would see restrictions relaxed on most activities coupled with significant safeguarding. Murphy envisioned this stage featuring more work activities, including in-person meetings at physical locations, expanded dining, critical in-office work, limited entertainment, expanded personal care, and bars with limited capacity.
The last stage is termed “New Normal,” which is defined as “economic and social activity back to normal with a new reliance.” But Murphy believes the final piece will not be fulfilled until a vaccine for the virus is produced.
“Until a proven vaccine is widely available, we cannot firmly enter the ‘new normal’ which eventually awaits us, when life will once again return to all our workplaces, downtowns, and main streets,” he stated.