Democratic and Republican State Senate leaders will take a closer look at how Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration has handled the coronavirus outbreak in New Jersey.
The Senate plans to establish a special committee to examine a range of issues related to the pandemic, including the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state’s long-term care facilities and prisons, the breakdown of the unemployment system, fiscal challenges for state and local governments and the impact on minority communities, State Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Jr. recently announced.
The bipartisan “Review and Recovery Committee” will work to identify immediate and long-term solutions to the financial, social and governmental problems, according to the senators.
The Senate is expected to vote in coming weeks on a resolution creating the committee, they said.
Asked about the committee during his daily press conference May 26, Murphy reiterated his call for a state and federal post mortem styled after the 9/11 Commission that was headed by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean.
But Murphy noted that the 9/11 Commission was empaneled a year later after the attack.
“We are trying to saves lives right now,” said Murphy.
Calling it “the biggest public health crisis in more than a century,” Sweeney said the outbreak has impacted “a range of communities” and “exposed social and governmental failures that need to be addressed.”
The panel, Sweeney said, will work to solve “immediate problems” and initiate “systematic reforms to prevent them from happening again.”
“This is about getting answers and making improvements, not about casting blame,” he said.
Kean said, “It’s clear that mistakes were made and important lessons can be learned to improve the State’s response as we move forward. It’s our sincere hope that this bipartisan review will save lives and help New Jersey to recover with strength and resiliency.”
He added, the committee hopes to “improve transparency and accountability,” as well as “provide important oversight of the administration’s response to COVID-19.”
In recent weeks, the Murphy administration has faced criticism over the state’s response to the public health emergency.
During Murphy’s daily COVID-19 media briefing on May 22, state officials defended their actions on the way New Jersey handled the outbreak in long-term care facilities.
It came as GOP legislators continued their calls for an investigation into the pandemic’s impact on one of the state’s most vulnerable populations.
Long-term Care Issues
The first-term Democratic governor noted in the early days of the outbreak, his thoughts and the state’s actions were focused on where symptomatic patients were going.
“The people who got sick were going to hospitals, that is where we were trying to save their lives with ventilators and ICU beds,” said Murphy.
“We are doing everything we can to do better…to figure out (actions) if this happens again,” said the governor, highlighting New Jersey being the only state to hire an outside firm to look at both past actions and future practices to adopt.
As of May 26, more than 20,000 residents and 9,787 staffers at 536 long-term care facilities have been infected, and 5,684 residents and 101 staff members have died.
Statewide, at least 11,191 deaths and 155,764 cases have been reported since the outbreak began in March.
Reopening the state, Murphy has said, will occur in multiple stages that are guided by downward trends of hospitalization rates and virus-related deaths.
Currently, the state is in the first phase, which permits low-risk activities, like visiting parks, lakes and beaches, but a stay-at-home order remains in effect.
Two weeks ago, construction resumed and non-essential businesses were given permission to offer curbside pickup service, and prior to Memorial Day weekend, Murphy announced that groups of up to 25 people can gather outdoors.