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Murphy announces plan to restart economy, calls for sustained drop in new coronavirus cases beforehand

<p>Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said his plan for restarting New Jersey's economy cannot be implemented until officials see a sustained drop in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.&nbsp;</p>

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said his plan for restarting New Jersey's economy cannot be implemented until officials see a sustained drop in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases. 

At a press conference today, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced his plan for economic rebuilding along with 2,146 additional cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and 106 deaths. This brings New Jersey’s total to 111,188 cases and 6,044 deaths.

Murphy said the numbers reported on weekends and Mondays may not be a complete picture of the new COVID-19 cases due to delays in reporting positive test results.

As of 10 p.m. last night, 6,407 residents were hospitalized for COVID-19, with 1,801 of them in critical or intensive care and 1,303 using ventilators. All three of these statistics have begun to trend downward, Murphy said. Additionally, 314 new patients were admitted to hospitals, and 480 patients were discharged.

“Our progress to date has been driven by both the hard work of literally tens of thousands of dedicated healthcare professionals and first responders, and it has been aided and amplified by the millions of you who have kept the need for social distancing and personal responsibility close to your hearts,” Murphy said.

Murphy announced his plan for restarting New Jersey’s economy, called “The Road Back: Restoring Economic Health Through Public Health.” He said this will only be done once officials can ensure that enough progress has been made to ensure economic rebuilding does not have a negative impact on public health. 

“A plan that is needlessly rushed is a plan that will needlessly fail,” he said.

In order to consider reopening the state, officials will first look for a two-week-long sustained reduction in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and other similar metrics, Murphy said. Officials will also look for whether hospitals and other healthcare systems are continuing to offer crisis standards of care.

The second measure involves doubling the state’s testing capacity, which Murphy said could be achieved by the end of May, and providing faster results. The state will prioritize testing for healthcare workers, essential workers and vulnerable populations, but also aims to implement a flexible testing plan, he said. This means tests could be offered at drive-through sites, walk-up locations, pharmacies or even at home.

Officials will also look to implement targeted surveillance testing to collect data and understand how COVID-19 spreads, which Murphy said can help prevent the resurgence of the virus. He said New Jersey will require help from federal partners, private labs and higher education institutions.

The third measure requires the implementation of effective contact tracing. Murphy said officials must be able to track down individuals who came in contact with a COVID-19 positive resident by not only relying on the patient’s memory, but also through technology. The state will recruit personnel to specifically work on contact tracing, which he said will help prevent New Jerseyans from unwittingly spreading COVID-19. 

Murphy said approximately 15 to 81 personnel should be hired for every 100,000 residents. The state is also looking into technology that can make contact tracing more efficient.

The fourth measure establishes locations for future COVID-19 patients to isolate. Murphy said no matter how cautious officials are when reopening the economy, there will be more cases of the virus, but he said the goal is to prevent these cases from multiplying.

“Meeting these four benchmarks — a sustained drop in the curve, expanded testing, contact tracing and safe places for people to isolate — is critical to giving our residents confidence that we are not only in front of the crisis, but when we do restart the economy, they should not fear going out and being a part of it,” he said.

To carry out the fifth step of economic rebuilding, Murphy is establishing the Governor’s Restart and Recovery Commission. The commission, whose members will be announced tomorrow, will consist of health experts, economists, academics, labor leaders and business leaders, among others responsible for balancing the various needs for different communities and economic sectors to ensure the economic reopening helps everyone in New Jersey, he said. 

Murphy said the commission will prioritize reopening businesses that are deemed essential and also low-risk, later moving to gradually reopen other businesses until the economy is fully functioning. He said economic reopening may come with certain social distancing measures, such as required face coverings or continued work from home directives.

The final step involves ensuring New Jersey is prepared for future health crises, whether it be a COVID-19 resurgence or a different viral outbreak, he said. This involves ensuring healthcare facilities have more than enough beds, personal protective equipment, ventilators and staff. The state will also work toward building its own stockpile of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers as well as a supply of extra ventilators.

“We cannot find ourselves in another situation where we must rely on the federal government or our corporate and philanthropic partners ... to source what we need,” Murphy said. “We must build our resiliency now.”

Murphy said the strategies he and other state officials have implemented so far can be used as a model for future administrations in the face of a similar crisis.

Murphy said it is unclear when this process will formally begin or whether it will be implemented region-by-region as opposed to across the whole state. He said the public must continue social distancing in order to reduce the number of cases each day and allow officials to begin implementing the rest of the steps.

“If you want to get back to some semblance of normal, the most important thing right now is to keep doing what you’re doing,” he said. “Stay at home, stay away from each other. That is job number one, and the extent to which that continues to succeed (will) allow us to start going down that road.”

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