With cases of COVID-19 starting to increase in their states, Gov. Phil Murphy and his peers in New York and Connecticut took decisive action Monday to slow and hopefully stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The widespread closings and restrictions they announced aimed to get ahead of the spreading pandemic. They surprised the residents of New Jersey, evidence that they may be as forward-thinking as they need to be.
Murphy made clear he was going all in on public safety with his sweeping executive order. He closed casinos, fitness centers, theaters and other entertainment businesses. He ordered an end to dining and drinking out, only allowing the state’s restaurants and bars to provide takeout or delivery orders. He closed all public and private schools, colleges and universities.
Businesses of all kinds deemed nonessential at first could remain open during the day with some restrictions designed to lower risks for customers. But then on Saturday Murphy ordered them to close too. Essential businesses such as supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations can continue to operate.
Murphy also urged residents to observe a voluntary curfew, remaining home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. daily. And he strongly discouraged nonessential travel during those hours.
Violations of Murphy’s executive order will be considered a disorderly persons offense, subject to local law enforcement.
These actions are unprecedented and will remain in effect until state officials decide when each restriction can end.
Murphy and his fellow governors deserve credit for acting quickly and boldly to contain and limit a growing danger to the public. Tighter restrictions on state residents and businesses may be needed before the coronavirus is contained.
These orders obligate the governors to make future decisions that will be even more difficult. Their actions will shut down a significant portion of the economies in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. That will hurt millions of workers and many thousands of businesses. Even though state and federal efforts are underway to ease their distress and losses, they are unlikely to be made whole even after the pandemic has passed.
Governments cannot just nullify economic harm. They can only share its cost or spread it out over time. New Jersey and the United States already are highly indebted, so massive spending to help their economies, residents and businesses also worsens their financial positions — thereby increasing their burden on citizens, companies and organizations.
In the days ahead, Gov. Murphy must weigh what everyone hopes is the diminishing risk of COVID-19 against the unavoidable and growing damage to family finances, businesses and the New Jersey economy. He may well have to ease up on the state’s economy before the conquest of the coronavirus is certain.
We are confident in his leadership, and in the state’s response to its share of this threat to the nation. Frankly, all officials in America making crucial decisions about COVID-19 must do so without as much information as they usually require. The top U.S. medical experts are uncertain about the virus’s future course, yet public officials must act now on that uncertain future.
As with any threat to the nation, there will be plenty of time after it is defeated to analyze actions and plan to do better next time. Now, in the thick of the fight, everyone should support the American people and their representatives wholeheartedly and do their part to prevail.