Emergency orders closing most businesses and confining people to home had the intended effect of slowing new COVID-19 cases so medical care wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Now society must be reopened in a way that probably increases cases but without exceeding care capacity.
The Jersey Shore’s make-or-break summer season has started, so the region must reopen by mid-June at the latest to avoid shattering lives and businesses.
A coalition of Cape May County freeholders, mayors and business leaders signaled that urgency weeks ago by releasing a reopening plan and submitting it to Gov. Phil Murphy. The governor said he would consider it but hasn’t addressed it since.
Sen. Michael Testa and his fellow 1st District Republicans called for an immediate plan to reopen small businesses and criticized Murphy for rejecting plans tailored to regional conditions that vary greatly.
Then when Murphy announced a statewide reopening plan with four phases but no schedule, Testa and a fellow attorney representing state Republicans filed a Superior Court lawsuit challenging the business closures by the Murphy administration.
Murphy’s plan, announced at the start of last week, would first allow low-risk activities like beaches, parks and boardwalks to reopen — which has started. The next phase in the “coming weeks” would allow moderate-risk activities with safeguards, such as dining outdoors, libraries and limited personal care, such as hair and nail services. Shoppers and workers wouldn’t be allowed into so-called nonessential stores and businesses until phase three, along with reduced-capacity opening of schools, bars and entertainment facilities — all with safeguards required.
Not until a fourth phase when a vaccine is available would “life once again return to all our workplaces, downtowns and main streets,” he said.
A week later, South Jersey Democrats made the bipartisan push for a timetable to reopen Atlantic City, the Jersey Shore and other regions of the state with far fewer COVID-19 infections than the state’s New York City suburbs. Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato of Atlantic County and Sens. John Burzichelli and Troy Singleton of Gloucester and Burlington counties, respectively, said neighboring states such as Pennsylvania have reopenings starting as soon as next week and “catastrophic unemployment” makes reopening the N.J. regions “urgent.”
These legislators have been forced into action by the Democrats controlling the Legislature — Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin — who have supported the indefinite exercise of autocratic emergency power by their party’s governor. By failing to carry out their responsibility as a co-equal branch of government representing the diverse interests of New Jersey, they inadvertently encourage the necessary assertion of those interests — even contrary to Murphy’s three-months-and-counting emergency order if necessary.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that more than half of Americans — more than 165 million — will be exposed to the coronavirus. Its toll on mankind will be stabilized eventually by a combination of growing herd immunity, distancing efforts, seasonal effects on the virus if any, and vaccines after at least several months. But the prevaccine mix of these factors that best controls mortality won’t be known until much later and probably will vary for different states and nations.
New Jersey’s political leaders can’t destroy their constituents’ economic basis for living while waiting for control of the virus. They must work together to implement a plan to protect the most vulnerable and keep cases from overwhelming care capacity, while getting all of society working again.
Failing to agree on and execute such a plan practically invites residents and businesses to restore society themselves. That’s especially true in the case of the Jersey Shore, where the loss of the summer season could destroy the livelihoods of many.