Coronavirus update: N.J. gov slams idea of sacrificing lives for the economy

Staff in protective gear prepare to test people at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Staff in protective gear prepare to test people at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Updated 5:51 p.m.  

Without naming names, Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday blasted people like the lieutenant governor of Texas who have suggested that reviving the economy is worth the possible tradeoff in human life.

“We completely and utterly reject some pockets — I might add, happily, small pockets — that are suggesting around the country … that certain persons are expendable,” the Democrat said at his daily briefing. “The fact of the matter is everyone is indispensable.”

The comments came after Republican Dan Patrick, Texas’ second in command, told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Monday that he and other grandparents would be willing to risk their lives in order to get Americans “back to work” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’” said Patrick, who turns 70 next week. “And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.”

Murphy and many other governors nationwide have imposed strict social distancing mandates to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus and prevent patients from overwhelming hospitals.

But Patrick, President Donald Trump and others have worried about the economic impacts of those policies, as financial markets have tumbled and thousands, if not millions, of Americans have lost their jobs.

Predictive modeling clearly shows that laxer restrictions would cause higher rates of transmission, a greater strain on health care resources and ultimately more deaths.

An influential study by epidemiologists at the Imperial College in London, for example, concluded the virus would kill 2.2 million Americans absent any intervention by governments, but far fewer with business closures and personal restrictions.

“There is no cost that is too high to save any one precious life,” Murphy said Wednesday. “Let’s all remember that we are America. We’re the country that never leaves the fallen soldier injured or killed on the battlefield. We always go back, including putting lives at risk to get that fallen soldier.”

Confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Jersey rose Wednesday by 736 to a total of 4,402.

The governor also announced 18 more related deaths, bringing the state total to 62. The newly reported fatalities include four people from Ocean County and one each from Burlington and Cumberland counties.

President Donald Trump has been eager to loosen restrictions despite the soaring number of cases in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. There have been at least 61,000 confirmed cases nationwide and more than 800 related deaths.

Trump said Tuesday he wants the U.S. economy to “open” back up by Easter Sunday — less than three weeks away on April 12.

Murphy, who has the ultimate authority over when to loosen restrictions in New Jersey, said Wednesday that “we just don’t see that in the near term.”

Were the state to lift restrictions before getting the virus in check, he said, “we only throw gasoline on the fire of the virus and we pay a far bigger price down the road.”

Peak in cases could be three weeks away

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that the height of the pandemic in his state could be just two or three weeks away, New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the peak in the Garden State’s hard-hit northern counties could follow closely behind.

“Probably 21 to could be 60 days even,” she said of Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties, adding health care systems there are already “pretty stressed.”

New Jersey has the second-most cases nationwide after New York, where confirmed cases rose to 30,811 on Wednesday with 285 deaths.

Persichilli has described how the state is rushing to expand the state’s capacity of hospital beds, especially those outfitted with ventilators and other equipment needed to handle the sickest patients.

Officials are looking to reopen closed hospitals as well as unused wings in existing hospitals.

They are also exploring the use of hotels and dormitories to house patients with mild systems while the Federal Emergency Management Agency works to set up four, 250-bed field hospitals.

The first pop-up facility is expected to open within a week at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, with the other three to open within a month at the convention centers in Edison and Atlantic City.

Booker implores Trump: “Lives are at stake”

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said he is pressing President Trump to allocate resources — especially ventilators — from the federal stockpile to help states struggling to cope with the recent swell in coronavirus cases.

“This is not a time to husband resources,” he said in an interview with WHYY. “He should be using all the powers he has as an executive to get those states on the front lines of this crisis the resources they need. Lives are at stake.”

The Democrat is in Washington, D.C., working on what could be the third federal bill to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The possibly $2 trillion package would include $150 billion in aid to state and local governments. Adults making less than $75,000 would also get a one-time check for $1,200, and certain households would receive $500 per child.

Booker praised the “Herculean, heroic efforts” of health care workers and first responders on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

“That’s who we are. I’ve seen it on 9/11. I’ve seen it in Hurricane Sandy,” he said. “That’s the truth of our state, that when crisis comes, we rise to those challenges.”

More child care centers to close

Also Wednesday, Murphy ordered all child care centers that wish to stay open to certify by Friday that they will solely serve the children of “essential” workers.

Centers that don’t do so will have to close by April 1, he said. Many such businesses in the state have already closed on their own.

“We are taking this step for a simple reason,” Murphy said. “We need all of our front-line workers on the job helping us to get through this emergency. A lack of child care cannot be a barrier for them or our response. While these workers commit themselves to our New Jersey family, we will commit to protecting their families.”

Essential workers include health care workers, first responders, some government employees, people who provide critical social services and possibly some retail workers, officials said. More guidance on who that term covers is expected to be released in the coming days.

Another ‘knucklehead’ charged for coughing at police

Police in New Providence, in Union County, have charged a man with harassment and obstruction for claiming he had coronavirus and coughing at officers as they arrested him for domestic violence, Murphy said Wednesday.

The incident was similar to a case authorities announced Tuesday in which a Monmouth County man said he had the virus and coughed on a Wegmans employee during an argument. He was charged with making terroristic threats, among other offenses.

The governor appears to have made it a daily habit of publicly shaming people he calls “knuckleheads” who violate the state’s social distancing mandates and common decency.

He said he wants people to know that law enforcement is aggressively enforcing compliance.

Also Tuesday, police issued two summonses in Lakewood, in Ocean County, Murphy said. One was for holding a large gathering, the other for a wedding at a private residence.

More N.J. bridges go cashless

Beginning 6 a.m. Thursday, cash payments on the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Commodore Barry bridges will be suspended indefinitely to reduce person-to-person contact.

All drivers should use E-ZPass lanes. Those with active E-ZPass accounts will be charged as usual. Everyone else will have their license plate photographed and be mailed an invoice for the cost of the toll only — without additional fees.

Similar measures took effect Tuesday night on toll bridges operated by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, including the U.S. Route 1 bridge between Trenton and Morrisvile, Pa. and the U.S. Route 202 span between New Hope, Pa. and Lambertville.

Over the weekend, the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln and Holland tunnels into New York City also moved to exclusively electronic tolling.

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