Mar 31, 2020
NJ Governor Phil Murphy COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript March 31
Phil Murphy: (00:00)
Catherine, it’s great to have you with us. Thank you. Now as we have done the past few days, we’re going to go right to the numbers and then we will fill in some details as we go from there. For the past 24 hours, we are reporting an additional 2,196 positive test results, so our statewide count stands at 18,696. Again, 2,196 positive test results overnight since yesterday, a total of 18,696, in total. And we continue to lose invaluable members of our New Jersey family to COVID-19 related complications and this does not get any easier to speak to, nevermind live through. Since yesterday, another 69 residents have died and that total now stands at 267, each of them a precious life lost from our New Jersey family. Taking that number, which is a big one, and putting a face to it maybe in a couple of different ways.
Phil Murphy: (01:15)
One of those precious souls lost was Passaic firefighter, Israel Tolentino Jr. He became a firefighter about a year and a half ago. He had been a volunteer before that, he had served as an EMT. He was only 33- years-old. I spoke to his wife, Maria earlier. They have two children, Ilani, who I think is nine and Israel, who is seven. I also spoke to his chief, Chief Trentacost, as well as I exchanged notes with the Mayor of Passaic, Hector Lora. By all accounts, an incredible guy and somebody who we mourn with his family and friends. We keep his family in our prayers as we do every single New Jersey family who was dealing with the absolute worst part from this emergency. Another name, another young person, you may have read about Ben Luderer who was the head baseball coach at Cliffside Park, 30-years-old, a star in that famous Don Bosco Prep, I think, undefeated team of 2008 they were number one in the nation. He went on and played at Marist. To his wife, Brandy and to his family, God rest his soul.
Phil Murphy: (02:35)
Just stop for a second, you just heard about a 33-year-old and a 30-year-old. Now you’re going to hear from Judy when she goes through the dimensions of the fatalities, that those are on the somewhat exception side. That clearly the demographic that is older is the one that’s being hit the hardest. But may I just repeat to everybody who’s listening, this is a reality for all of us. This is not abstract no matter how good our health is, no matter how young we might be. And by the way, even if it doesn’t impact you, nevermind kill you, you may unwittingly carry this virus and pass it on to someone else who you hold dear. So to each of Israel and Ben and to all the other 67 folks who we lost overnight, bless their hearts, the disease has taken service members, first responders, coaches, loved ones, many friends and too many New Jerseyans and sadly we know that this number will grow.
Phil Murphy: (03:41)
I cannot be any clearer in my call, stay at home before this hits home, like it has now for 267 of our families. Please do your part to flatten this curve that we showed you yesterday and think of what we saw and the totality of where this could go if it was left unchecked and where social distancing can take us. Again, the chart on the left, best judgment, again, this is as of yesterday, this changes every day, but look at where this virus would have taken us had we not stayed at home, had we not done everything we can to flatten the curve. And you see on the left, needing as many as just under 80,000 hospital beds and there’s no state in America that has the wherewithal or the resources to come up with that sort of a peak in surge and meet it.
Phil Murphy: (04:49)
But look at the chart on the right. That’s just if we behave as an average state based on past pandemics, that’s what we can do. Now, the blue line, that surges at the top is still north of that red line that’s straight underneath it. The red line is the current capacity of hospital beds and the blue line is the surge, but that’s an average result. We, I repeat, we are not an average state. We are the quintessential all come together, one family, we can do the impossible state, that is New Jersey. And our job collectively is to stay at home, keep social distancing, and flatten the hell out of that curve to get it as close down to that red line as humanly possible. Let’s all stay in this together. Let’s prevent more losses like Israel and Ben and other blessed souls who have lost their lives.
Phil Murphy: (05:45)
If we do our part, we can meaningfully slow the spread and save lives and we can lessen the strain at the same time in our healthcare system and on our communities. And as we always do, we thank everyone on the frontlines, especially the unsung and overlooked heroes who are out there working in our communities. And this is beyond the healthcare workers who are heroes, the first responders who are heroes. But how about the home health aides, sanitation workers, the retail employees and essential places of business, to whom we’ve referred before, the Teamsters and the truck drivers and the transit workers. Their commitment and dedication to the rest of us means the world and it means that we know we will emerge from this stronger. But let’s also help them and how do we help them? We help them by staying home and doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. This isn’t about you, it’s about us.
Phil Murphy: (06:49)
I’ve said it many times. I know this isn’t fun, but now is the time to be selfless, not selfish and for all of us to pull together. We accept and understand the anxiety, the cabin fever, the impatience, the restlessness, the unknowns. We get all that. The very best thing we can do together, and by the way, we’ll shoot straight with you on what the facts are, where we are and where we’re headed. But the very best, far and away thing any of us can do is to stay home and keep your distance from anybody else even while you’re at home. Okay, with that said, please allow me to switch gears a couple of times before I ask and invite my colleagues to speak. Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 1st, the PNC Bank Arts Center drive-through site operating in partnership with FEMA. We’ll open at 8:00 AM again for symptomatic New Jersey residents only.
Phil Murphy: (07:49)
The Bergen County Community College testing site will be closed tomorrow. Again, we’re in an on, off, hoping to accomplish the same amount of tests in aggregate but to do it in a more coherent way. Additionally, three more county sponsored sites either have or are preparing to open and I’ll go north to south. I’ve been in touch with each of them and it’s all good news as we continue to aggressively open up our testing regime. Again, for symptomatic persons. In a perfect world, the federal government would give us all the testing material we need, all the personal protective equipment that we need and we could be like South Korea. From moment one, we realized that wasn’t the case. We didn’t have that level of material and support from the federal government. So we made the decision for obvious personal health reasons to test symptomatic people only.
Phil Murphy: (08:50)
And by the way, that has an added benefit to the colleagues to my right because that’s the most valuable data we could get, both positives and negatives and Judy will go through both in a minute. That allows us to best get our arms around this and get out ahead of it. So starting tomorrow, Middlesex County in partnership with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission is opening a drive-through site located at the MVC’s Kilmer Vehicle Inspection Center in Edison. That site will be open three days a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Testing there is by appointment only and you must be both a Middlesex County resident and exhibiting symptoms of respiratory illness. The appointment window is now open and you can find more information at middlesexcountynj.gov/COVID19testing. Again, that’s middlesexcountynj.gov/COVID19testing or you could call 732-745-3100, 732-745-3100. Ocean County opened it’s public testing site at Ocean County College yesterday and they served 126 residents. This site is open Monday through Friday by appointment only. Again for Ocean County residents who are exhibiting symptoms. That’s the case all over the state. For more information or to make an appointment, please visit the Ocean County Health Department online at ochd.org, that’s ochd.org. And we also thank Ocean County’s healthcare partners, Hackensack Meridian Health and RWJ Barnabas Health. And tomorrow, Camden County in partnership with Cooper University Healthcare and Virtua Health will be opening a testing site at Cooper’s Point Park in Camden, which will be open from noon to 4:00 each weekday through April 15. Testing will be available by appointment to Camden County residents and anyone seeking a test should contact their medical provider at Cooper Virtua CamCare or another provider. And again, it’s for symptomatic folks only.
Phil Murphy: (11:12)
So I want to thank our partners and leaders in Middlesex County, Ocean County and Camden County. They join a long list of other counties that are doing everything they can to test symptomatic persons. I’ve shown this exhibit several times to you this week and you’ll see now the total list of testing sites continues to grow. And by my count there are 26 at least in the state and so we will continue that. For any New Jerseyan and again, I want to come back to our all encompassing website. For any New Jerseyan who thinks they may need to be tested, a good first stop is our symptom self test at our all encompassing website covid19.nj.gov, covid19.nj.gov. And if you do believe you may be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare practitioner.
Phil Murphy: (12:06)
Before I leave testing, I had a very good conversation this morning and my colleagues had preceded that with him both last night and today with Tom Evers, one of the senior guys at Abbott Laboratories. They have, as you probably saw over the past couple of days, they are developing a rapid turnaround test and I’m honored to say that New Jersey has been picked as one of the early states that they’re going to put that test equipment into, right now into Bergen County. More details on that to come as we know more. It’s a modest first step, but it’s an important first step and according to Tom and he and his Abbott colleagues are going to continue to ramp up the ability to get that piece of equipment into as many hands as possible or access as much as possible. So as I’ve said all along it takes a village and in this case I want to tip of the cap to Abbott Labs.
Phil Murphy: (13:09)
Switching gears again to the topic of personal protective equipment or PPE. Last night, and I’m going to ask Pat Callahan to say a few words about, before we go to Q and A, about both PPE and compliance or lack thereof. Last night, we received a shipment of PPE, another one, this I think is now our fourth shipment out of FEMA. It consisted of more than 260,000 pieces including masks and gloves. Again, deep appreciation, we are grateful for it. It by no means alleviates our need for more PPE and we continue to work every single avenue to get more of our state… more for our state rather in our frontline responders and to also ensure that our community health personnel have what they need as well. Remember, this fight isn’t just in our hospitals.
Phil Murphy: (14:03)
This slide, I think we’ve got a slide [inaudible 00:14:05] that gives a quick glimpse of into our current statewide PPE numbers. I’m hopeful that perhaps as early as tomorrow’s briefing, I’ll be able to give along with Pat and team here, a greater accounting of our PPE supplies and how they fit into our current needs. Our work both collectively and through Pat’s efforts is to ensure that we are distributing our PPE supplies as efficiently and effectively as possible. This is why we’ve put in place the daily reporting mandate for all of our health systems and hospitals and why we’re continuing to seek out every available piece of PPE and every available ventilator. Make no doubt, we appreciate every single piece of PPE that we’re receiving, whether it’s through the federal government in the national stockpile from the many-
Phil Murphy: (15:03)
… Whether it’s through the federal government and the national stockpile, from the many donations large and small that we have received, or through or own purchasing. But, and I repeat, we need a lot more and I continue to push our case with the White house, with FEMA, and with everyone I speak to. And as always, if you have PPE to donate, please let us know through this website, covid19.nj.gov/ppedonations. Colonel Callahan and his team will connect with you to take that off your hands. And it’s not just PPE.
Phil Murphy: (15:38)
We have also desperately mentioned many times that we need more ventilators. I noted yesterday we continue to pursue every avenue on that front. The 300 ventilators from the strategic stockpile that we referred to yesterday have arrived, and they’re being tested as we speak. So far, so good. George Helmy, my chief of staff, and I have each been on at the highest levels of the White House this morning, reiterating and underscoring particularly with another 69 fatalities, the need for more ventilators.
Phil Murphy: (16:17)
This is as good a spot as any to say that I mentioned it takes a village. I mentioned Tom Evers at Abbott Labs. I had a long and incredibly powerful conversation yesterday with a guy who we’ve been in regular touch with, and that’s Alex Gorsky, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson, one of our iconic corporate citizens. Alex and I spoke. A, I wanted to reiterate my thanks for the 10,000 goggles that they had contributed, an enormous amount of money. They’re allowing their scientists and researchers to take, I forget what the sabbatical period is, but to go into hot spots and actually work at the front lines. You may have seen that they are working aggressively on a vaccine.
Phil Murphy: (17:02)
Now, there are many working on a vaccine but there are a few out there, and I mean out there anywhere in the world, never mind New Jersey or America, who can realistically hope to achieve the scale, and that’s the key here, the scale of production. Alex and I also talked through sort of the likelihood of how this plays out in terms of the sequencing of, as we’ve said all along, we’ve got to break the back of the coronavirus first, and meaningfully reduce the cases, if not at, towards zero, then begin to responsibly reopen our economy and society. He and I talked about again, I’m operating above my pay grade with my two colleagues to the right, but talked about the likelihood of therapeutics, drugs that can treat the symptoms, becoming much more broadly available.
Phil Murphy: (17:55)
In his judgment, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but sort of if you looked at sort of back-to-school time frame. And then a vaccine that they are literally out testing, retesting, making sure it’s safe and efficacious. And then the ability, whether it’s them or whoever, but obviously they are as big a dog on the hunt as any, to have vaccines at scale, God willing, by perhaps as early as spring of 2021. We have no bigger player in the healthcare space in the state than Johnson & Johnson, none with a deeper heritage. And again, to all the … I’ve mentioned in the past week Merck and so many other of the big, big companies that are proud to call New Jersey home. We wear their presence here as a badge of honor. They are all diving in like never before, proving that it not just takes a village in words but in actions, so hats off to each of them. As I say, in particular that conversation with Alex was particularly powerful and enlightening.
Phil Murphy: (18:58)
Allow me to switch gears again. On Saturday, I mentioned that we were close to having 100% compliance from municipal water companies voluntarily halting all service shutoffs throughout this emergency. I’m proud to report that we now have that 100% compliance statewide. Between both municipal and private sector water utilities, no New Jerseyan should fear losing their access to clean water. I thank everyone for their cooperation. I know Catherine’s going to touch on this as well.
Phil Murphy: (19:33)
Switching gears again from the attorney general’s office, I want to amplify the announcement made yesterday that we will crack down on any physician or pharmacist or anybody else hoarding certain prescription drugs or inappropriately prescribing them to friends and family. As we have read in the news, certain drugs are being investigated for their potential in treating COVID-19. I mentioned therapeutics a minute ago myself, and we must start now to protect that supply. Like a lot of other things, overwhelmingly these are fields filled with good actors, but a few knuckleheads spoil it for the rest of us.
Phil Murphy: (20:12)
And from the Department of Labor, again switching again, we cannot urge employers enough to keep your workers on payroll throughout this crisis, and allow them to benefit from the expanded paid sick and family leave programs made possible by the recently enacted federal response bills. If you do, you will be eligible for a dollar-for-dollar payroll tax credit against those costs. This is available I think to 99.8% of all businesses in New Jersey, and all but our largest employers. Again, I urge you to do the right thing and keep your employees on payroll throughout this crisis, so we can deliver them peace of mind and so we can get our economy going that much faster when this emergency ends. Also from the Department of Labor, residents who are eligible for unemployment will receive an additional $600 per week through July 31st, because of the federal relief bill last week. This money should arrive I believe starting next week for those already collecting unemployment. For those of you who just filed, it will take a little longer but the department is working overtime to process all of your claims. We ask for your patience due to the record volume with which they are dealing. For more information, again on any of these items, go to our all-encompassing website, covid19.nj.gov, covid19.nj.gov.
Phil Murphy: (21:43)
There has already begun some chatter about the next coronavirus-related bill coming out of Congress. I spoke with Speaker Pelosi not once but twice yesterday on this very topic. Let me again reiterate our priorities. We need assistance for workers, small businesses, and flexible aid for states that have borne the brunt of this virus, and we certainly are at or near the top of that list. New Jersey and New Jerseyans who are in the eye of the storm should not be treated the same way as states less impacted by this invisible enemy.
Phil Murphy: (22:20)
Also, as we continue to think about a Main Street stimulus, Congress should undo the SALT deduction cap to help New Jersey’s middle class homeowners. I thank on this one in particular, Congressmen Pascrell and Gottheimer for their continued efforts on this front. Speaker Pelosi and I spoke not just about the general need for another step and another bill and stimulus coming from Congress, but specifically spoke about lifting the SALT cap.
Phil Murphy: (22:54)
Related to budget, to money, to impact, we had a good conversation late morning with our teams, with the Senate president and the speaker. We are as soon as we can looking to come to folks with guidance about where the budget is headed, and specifically about tax filing deadlines. It was a good conversation. Our teams are following up on that as we speak. More to come when we have information for you. Before I turn things over to Judy, I want to again express my thanks and indeed our thanks to the overwhelming number of New Jerseyans who doing the right thing by all nine million of us, to get us through this crisis. I cannot thank enough the women and men who are out there every day in whatever capacity they’re working, who are keeping us going.
Phil Murphy: (23:48)
I must give a special shout-out to the many state employees who are assisting their fellow residents in any number of ways. To our state colleagues, which measure in the many tens of thousands, I tip my cap to you. I want to tip my cap actually as well to our educators up and down the state, who are doing a phenomenal job in this just never-before-seen remote learning environment in which we’re all living. As usual, we have the best educators in America, if not the world, and they are stepping up in this case from home, in most cases, in walking our kids through the most unusual time in any of their educational lives.
Phil Murphy: (24:36)
And again in general, I cannot thank enough the millions and millions more residents who are staying at home and doing their extraordinary part to flatten the curve. We take our hat off to you. Overwhelmingly, folks are doing the right thing. There are still unfortunately a few who are not, and so in addition to a quick comment on PPE, before we take questions, I’m going to ask Colonel Callahan to just give us a quick summary, because we have to remind folks we need 100% compliance with our stay-at-home mandate.
Phil Murphy: (25:13)
By the way, you should know that we read practically everything you are sending us. If I don’t personally read it, and I read a lot of it, I promise you we are reading it. We understand and completely appreciate the anxiety that so many of you feel, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it as explicitly as I can. Leave the worrying to me. Leave it to us up here on this team. Our job is to lessen your anxiety, to be straight with you, to tell you the facts and to give you some sense of where we’re headed. We’re doing all that we can to [inaudible 00:25:49] the safety of our nine million-member New Jersey family. We’re doing all that we can to make sure that we don’t just get through this, but that we get through this stronger than ever before. We take your worries and your concerns to heart, and frankly they educate our decisions just as much as we rely on the facts and the science. We’re in this together. We will get through this together, and we will move forward together. I’d like to say it is going to be tomorrow. I’d like to say that we’ll come through this unscathed. We’ve already lost 267 precious lives. I don’t want anyone ever to look back on this day, March 31st or any other day, and say, “You didn’t warn us where this was headed.” The numbers of positive cases will continue to rise. Sadly, so will the fatalities.
Phil Murphy: (26:38)
But at some point, God willing sooner than later, we will break the back of this damn virus. We will flatten that curve. We will have gotten the capacity in our healthcare system sufficient enough to deal with the cases that we have, and we will begin slowly but surely together, never having turned on each other, as one extraordinary, diverse New Jersey family, slowly but surely we will get back on our feet, and we will be stronger than ever, ever before. With that, please help me welcome the person who needs no introduction, the commissioner of the Department of Health, Judy Persichilli. Judy?
Judy Persichilli: (27:17)
Thank you, Governor. Good afternoon. As I’ve shared in the past, we continue to be most concerned about our long-term care facilities who care for the most vulnerable population. Currently, 81 of our 375 long-term care facilities have reported at least one COVID-19 positive resident. Yesterday, the department issued updated guidance to these facilities that directs them to implement universal masking of all staff and anyone entering the facility. We are taking this step to reduce the risk of illness being introduced into the facilities. Also, all symptomatic facility residents, those who are showing respiratory virus symptoms, should be masked while staff is providing direct care.
Judy Persichilli: (28:19)
Concerning the readmission of their residents back into their facilities and acceptance of new residents, our guidance outlines methods facilities should use to return or admit patients safely into their facilities. In addition to monitoring them for symptoms, facilities must create separate wings, units or floors to accept asymptomatic residents coming into or returning from the hospital. This may mean moving residents in a facility to create a new wing or a new unit. They must limit the staff working between the wings or units as much as possible to avoid spread of the virus. They must create a separate wing or unit to accept COVID-19 positive residents, and they must care for those suspected or confirmed with COVID-19 in a cohort.
Judy Persichilli: (29:26)
When a facility receives information from its local health agency that a resident of the facility or a facility staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, the facility should follow the guidance provided by the local health agency to implement all actions necessary to protect the health and well-being of its residents and staff. Together these two steps, universal masking and appropriately separating residents returning to the facility, will help facilities reduce the risk of exposure of the virus.
Judy Persichilli: (30:02)
… the risk of exposure of the virus. Today, I will be on a call with the operators of all of our long-term care facilities to emphasize this guidance, and to give them guidance if they cannot, because of the physical plant, abide by our instructions.
Judy Persichilli: (30:22)
As the governor mentioned, we’re reporting 2,196 new cases, for a total of 18,696 cases in the state. And sadly, 69 new deaths have been reported. We have total fatalities in the state of 267. Of the total, 55% are male, 45% are female. Three individuals, or 1%, were less than 30 years of age. 12% were between the ages of 30 and 49. 46, or 17%, between the ages of 50 and 64. And 80, or 30%, between the ages of 65 and 79. 126, or 47%, are over the age of 80. According to our records right now, and many are still under investigation, 42% had underlying conditions, obesity, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and pulmonary disease. 58% are still under investigation for their full medical histories. 19%, or 52 individuals, were associated with long-term care facilities. Of the breakdown of the new cases, Atlantic County saw two. Bergen, 235. Burlington, 21. Camden, 29. Cape May, 3. Cumberland, 7. Essex, 237. Gloucester, 25. Hudson, 183. Hunterdon, 13. Mercer, 12. Middlesex, 119. Monmouth, 99. Morris, 65. Ocean, 46. Passaic, 73. Salem, 9. Somerset, 40. Sussex, 15. Union, 111. Warren, eight. And we are still gathering more details on 844 of these new cases.
Judy Persichilli: (32:59)
With over 95% of laboratories reporting, we have performed 44,330 tests, of which 17,253 have tested positive, for an overall positivity rate of 38.92%. The mass testing sites of Bergen and Monmouth have tested 2,593 individuals, with 1,052… remember, they’re all symptomatics, all of our tests are symptomatic individuals… 1,052 testing positive, for a positivity rate of 41.05%.
Judy Persichilli: (33:46)
I’m also reporting today that New Jersey State Psychiatric Hospital, another one has been affected. Ann Klein Forensic Center has one resident who tested positive for COVID- 19. Again, we are being extremely vigilant to all residents and facilities in New Jersey, especially the most vulnerable, those within mental health facilities, long-term care facilities, pediatric long-term care facilities, state and county jails.
Judy Persichilli: (34:21)
I know this continues to be a stressful time for New Jersey residents. In times of crisis, as the governor has shared, we all get solace by gathering and being with one another. So I want to remind you again, reach out, talk to your family and friends, especially the elderly and those with disabilities. Maintain your sense of community. Check in daily with each other. Technology supports that more than ever before. And for those who are in need of emotional support during this time, I encourage you to call our New Jersey Mental Health Cares hotline, at 1- 866-202-HELP. That’s 1-866-202-4357. So I send all of you our best wishes to take care of yourselves and encourage you to abide by the social distancing that will make a difference. Thank you.
Phil Murphy: (35:23)
Judy, thank you as always, for not just the report, but for your extraordinary leadership. A couple of points, if I may jump on them. This notion of reaching out and touching somebody, picking up the telephone, sending a text or an email, waving through a glass window, particularly for someone who is older perhaps, but more alone than not. It’s not easy on any of us, the average New Jerseyan. Think about folks who enter this with whatever the challenges they may have in their lives. So I think that that suggestion is a great one.
Phil Murphy: (36:02)
And we know the mental health side of this reality is real. I also want to… Again, it’s March 31st, and so let’s just make sure we say it again. We’re not getting out of this in the next few days. I’ll be the happiest guy in New Jersey, if not America or the world, if I’m wrong. But this is a marathon. We’re going to be hunkered down for a while. So this notion of finding ways to communicate virtually, taking solace in what we talked about the other day. In our isolation, ironically, we’re coming together, because we’re all in this together. That sort of spiritual side of this, I think, can nurture a lot of us and get us through that extra mile, because we’re going to need it. This is not something that we’re going to be able to flip a light switch on in the next few days and get out of.
Phil Murphy: (36:54)
You may have said this, Judy. Even if you did, can we underscore this? Of the long-term care facilities, 81 of the 375 have a positive. The sense you’ve gotten, and you’re expert at it, and other colleagues, is that in… maybe not every case, but in a lot of those cases, it was asymptomatic workers coming into the facility. Is that a fair assessment?
Judy Persichilli: (37:17)
I think that’s a fair assessment. What we did when we first saw this trend emerging, I was in touch with the Washington State Department of Health long-term care division, and they shared that their statistics had shown that it was individuals coming in, workers, healthcare workers, that had contracted the disease, were asymptomatic, and spread it into their long-term care facilities. So that is why we are recommending universal masking of the healthcare workforce that comes into the facility.
Phil Murphy: (37:52)
This is an important point and I want to make sure everybody hears that.
Phil Murphy: (37:59)
My task is usually also to tell you, total cases now, the order of counties, the top five. Bergen again, far and away, 2,909. Essex, 1,900. Hudson, 1,606. Union, 1,418. Passaic, 1,294.
Phil Murphy: (38:16)
Before Catherine comes on, I want to just say one other thing that is not in the front burner, but I had a conversation. I’ve been trying to reach out to folks who have deep history and expertise in this arena, not just obviously the medical community, but also the policy community. I spoke with Ron Klain on Saturday night, who helped oversee the Ebola response for the Obama administration, Andy Slavitt, a week or two ago, who’s built up expertise. Last night with Neera Tanden, who’s the CEO of the Center for American Progress. This is not for today and I’m not sure exactly the contours of this, but there’s really two sides to this point. Number one, we’re going to have off to the side, as they used to say, a skunkworks team, beginning now to look at exactly what it looks like and what’s going to be required in advance to begin to turn the lights on again, whenever that may come. So we’ve got a team that is focused 1000%. As you can imagine, the house is on fire right now. Our job is to put the fire out. But when we begin, how we begin, when we begin, what does it look like, in a fair amount of detail, to begin to get back on our feet. That’s a group over there that we’re sort of putting over there and asking them to begin work on that.
Phil Murphy: (39:45)
Relatedly, we’re sure as heck not going to go through the pain we’re going through to go down the road and find, just because of some other noncompliant, non-aggressive policies in other states in America, having people from those states… Neera and I actually spoke about this last night… then coming back into New Jersey and restarting the fire. So I’m not sure exactly what that looks like either. But with all due respect to the states that aren’t remotely as compliant as we are, or New York is by example, we’re not going to go through this pain together, folks, and bring this… break the back of this curve, flatten it, break it, bring it down, begin to open up again, just to be exposed to the lowest common denominator. So more on that as we sort of figure out exactly what that looks like down the road. But again, we’re not going to pay this price and have to watch that movie again.
Phil Murphy: (40:47)
And by the way, the virus in and of itself could ebb and flow, even if we do everything right. But I don’t want anybody coming in from some other part of the country where they have lax policies and lax regulations, and undoing a lot of the good that we are collectively, all 9 million of us, doing together right now.
Phil Murphy: (41:07)
With that, I said it was a whole of government approach. There’s no part of government that isn’t at the table right now. And whether it’s access to safe drinking water, whether it’s accessing supplies on their own, whether it’s just making sure… We are the densest state in America. So as we go through this crisis, as we go through our everyday life, getting our relationship with our environment right is a pass/fail test for us. And I’m honored to introduce the commissioner of the Department Of Environmental Protection, Catherine McCabe.
Catherine McCabe: (41:39)
Thank you, Governor. And good afternoon, everyone. Today, I’d like to bring your attention to just two of the many areas that the Department Of Environmental Protection has been focusing on during the COVID-19 outbreak. Those two areas are, keeping the drinking water on for all New Jerseyans during these challenging times, and keeping the New Jersey state parks open, to let residents get a little fresh air and exercise while maintaining the social distance that is so critical to our efforts to fight the virus. Before I speak about those, I’d also like to share a bit of good news on the PPE front. The good men and women of the New Jersey Parks Department primarily, but throughout our department, have gone to the closets and the cupboards, and come up with 10,000, almost 10,000, N95 masks, which are now on their way to our frontline precious healthcare workers where they are most needed. So I thank them for their efforts to do that.
Catherine McCabe: (42:41)
Turning to drinking water, as the governor said, I am very pleased to report that drinking water systems throughout the state have confirmed that they will not be turning the water off, even when people are late in paying their bills or cannot pay their bills on time. There will be no water shutoffs during this crisis. Clean water, obviously, is essential for public health at any time and at all times, but it’s especially critical now when we are spending so much time every day, as I’m sure all of you are, washing our hands and being sure that we are paying attention to the critical hygiene needs. We need to be religious about those, in our homes and in the places of business that are operating.
Catherine McCabe: (43:26)
We also recognize that many families are struggling to pay their bills, with so many businesses closed to fight this outbreak, and they are facing, or will soon face, difficult choices about which bills to pay first. So the governor and I very, very much appreciate and thank our New Jersey water utilities for their willingness to step up to the plate and do their part to help New Jersey residents protect their health and take care of their families during this public health crisis.
Catherine McCabe: (43:58)
Turning to the parks, the other good news is that the New Jersey state parks, and forests, and wildlife management areas remain open for passive recreational activities such as walking, biking, hiking, and fishing, to let New Jersey residents get a little fresh air and exercise during this stressful, cooped up time for many. We are also waiving park entrance fees during this situation.
Catherine McCabe: (44:25)
But there are a few important rules and other things that are important to know before you go. First, be aware that the park facilities, and that includes all the restrooms, are closed, so go before you go. Second, please keep travel to a minimum and visit the parks that is nearest to you. Third, while in the parks or other areas, visitors must practice social distancing. Go solo or with your immediate family only. Please do not go in large groups. If you see a lot-
Please do not go in large groups. If you see a lot of people or a crowded parking lot, go to another area of the park, or visit at another time. Keep your distance from others. Even outdoors, it is important to remain six feet away from each other at all times. Even if you pass others on a trail, please give each other a wide berth, and hopefully with a friendly smile. Do not use the park playgrounds or exercise facilities or equipment. They are roped off for a reason. The reason is to keep you all safe. And please do not attempt to force your way into closed restrooms, and please do not rip down the signs that our park workers have spent so many hours putting up to protect you, and to let you know the status of their facilities.
These rules are not optional, and they will be and are being enforced by state park police and conservation officers. Please respect the officer’s directions when they ask you to disperse or move on, and allow them, please, to maintain a safe social distance from you as well.
If you love to fish, a great social activity, we have good news for you. I shouldn’t say great social activity. I actually meant to say a great solo activity, not social. Trout season will open 10 days early tomorrow, Wednesday, April 1st, for catch and release only. This is to help us to help you maintain safe social distance while fishing. We’ve released the state-raised trout early to disperse them before fishing season opens, so that you can disperse too as you move out to catch them, instead of everyone gathering around the hatchery on day one of the trout season, which is traditional. If you find others gathered at your favorite fishing hole, consider trying a new location this year. The fish have moved out, and you should too. And at a minimum, please spread out to at least the required six foot social distance. Conveniently, this is the typical length of a fishing pole, so it should be easy for you to measure. And for better fishing, you’ll probably want more distance anyway.
If someone gets too close to you, have a friendly conversation about that six foot distance, or find another spot. So please do feel free to go out there and get some exercise and enjoy yourselves, whether in a park or a forest or along a fishing stream. But please, please be responsible, and remember that social distancing is absolutely essential to keeping you, your families, and our communities safe, and to help us all flatten the curve of this serious viral outbreak. Thank you.
Phil Murphy: (47:54)
Catherine, thank you. That was a report with overwhelming good news except for the trout, so I thank you for that. That’s a nice, Freddie the Trout watching. They just got a heads up here, but thank you seriously for that. And the notion for folks to be able to first of all, keep their water supply as a reliable constant, is a huge deal. Thank you for that. And the notion also to be able to go outside and get some fresh air in a responsible way has to be a part of what our plan is about.
Phil Murphy: (48:32)
We’re telling everybody to stay home. The notion is, everyone’s cooped up. You want to be able to get outside and get some fresh air. That’s a good thing. But please don’t repeat those scenes from the waterfront, I think it was in San Francisco a few weeks ago, where there were just gobs of people on top of each other, running shoulder to shoulder, holding hands. We can’t have that. So I just want to reiterate, whether it’s fishing and that six foot pole, which I think is a great way to think about it, or outside walking, hiking, jogging, please, please, please keep your distance. Thank you again. It’s great having you, and thank you for everything you do. And Sean, nice to have you with us as well. Pat, before we go to questions, any quick comment on PPE and/or compliance matters overnight?
PPE, with regard to that algorithm that we’re using, is primarily for healthcare workers now. It’s really only for healthcare workers now. We still have caches for first responders, but, and the commissioner [inaudible 00:49:36] Kelly can attest to it. I’m a Jersey trooper, but our health care workers need this [inaudible 00:49:41].
Phil Murphy: (49:41)
Speaker 3: (49:41)
Phil Murphy: (49:41)