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NEW JERSEY — Gov. Phil Murphy was ready to swing open the doors to indoor dining earlier this month. But the governor has paused nearly all reopenings since then, and he's suggested that he's not quite ready for a major restart of the economy just yet.
"We're largely in a holding pattern," Murphy said this week.
Murphy has offered several reasons for why he's taken a cautious approach (see below), and why he hasn't been more public about announcing benchmarks.
They all have to do with safety, he says, and setting a schedule for reopening too soon has only caused problems across the country.
Murphy said he'll make moves if "rolling seven-day averages show us convincingly that our numbers are in a good place, that the travel advisory is really working and that people are, as we think they are are, taking our strong request for further personal responsibility."
But Murphy also had strong words for those who have loudly protested his actions.
"If you don't like our leadership here, why don't you go down to Georgia and see how that feels?" Murphy said. "I mean, we need responsible leadership in this country right now in every place."
The news has been disappointing to restaurants, movie theaters, dance studios and gyms, especially. Murphy had, for weeks, indicated that he was ready soon to allow indoor use of both gyms and dining, only to pull back.
Indeed, Murphy even had announced an opening date for indoor dining, saying restaurants could open their indoor spaces July 2. But he withdrew that plan when cases in other parts of the country started to spike. Read more: Gov. Murphy Postpones NJ Indoor Dining Reopen Amid Coronavirus
Instead, Murphy has done half-measures, allowing restaurants to open parts of their indoor spaces if they have walls that open to the outside. Read more: Gov. Murphy To Allow Expanded Reopening Of NJ Dining
He also announced Wednesday that yoga and martial arts studio can reopen indoors, but health clubs can only have indoor operations with one-on-one appointments only. Read more: Gov. Murphy: Indoor Martial Arts, Yoga Studios Can Resume In NJ
Murphy's decisions haven't come without controversy. Court actions and lawsuits have taken place to try to force the governor to relent, but he's won nearly every time.
Here's why Murphy has not allowed more businesses to swing open their doors:
Murphy has long relied on this statistic as a key factor in deciding what reopens and when. The number had tumbled to perhaps the lowest in the nation in late May and early June, even after Murphy reopened the beaches.
But it has times risen above 1.0 — a number considered too high and indicative of uncontrolled community spread — since the number of cases across the country have spiked, and indoor parties in Middletown and elsewhere have caused small outbreaks. Read more: 20 Teens Test Positive For COVID After Middletown House Party
That number means every person diagnosed with the coronavirus is transmitting the disease to one other person. Currently, the number is 0.9, but Murphy has expressed concern that opening up indoor dining, in particular, will cause that number to rise.
Murphy said the spikes elsewhere in the country have happened largely because indoor dining was reopened too soon. Murphy said that type of business is "sedentary," it happens in facilities with little ventilation and people can't wear masks.
"Believe me — I want to get to gyms. I want to get to indoor dining. I want to get to theaters," he said. "We can't do it if we think we have the likelihood of killing people."
The number also has gone up and down since Murphy started reopening the economy in mid-May. Read more: Gov. Murphy: 'Hard Dates' In NJ Coronavirus Reopening Blueprint
"The world around us"
New Jersey and New York were once the epicenter of the outbreak. Now, many places elsewhere in the nation are showing huge increases in cases, particularly in Florida and Arizona.
Murphy has even taken the step of imposing a travel advisory for anyone coming from 31 states, although it is voluntary and doesn't subject people to fines. Read more: NJ Expands Coronavirus Travel Quarantine To 31 States
Murphy has been sympathetic to the plight of other states, but he also hasn't been afraid to call them out for bad behavior, particularly when Georgia's governor sued Atlanta for imposing an order to wear a mask outside.
Murphy called Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's actions "unfathomable."
"We have nothing but prayers and high aspirations for these places," Murphy said, though he added that the other states need to find a way to control the virus because "it's not just killing people there. It has the potential of killing people here."
Lack of a national strategy
Murphy has been one of the few Democratic governors who will not take on the Trump administration for what many see as a failed response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But he also believes the country needs to be more unified in how it protects itself, particularly on the issue of wearing masks.
Murphy believes there needs to be a "national strategy," one that will address the needs of personal protective equipment and get people to take the right precautions.
Murphy is confident that times will changes. Even President Donald Trump, who has resisted wearing a mask in public, is now sometimes wearing one.
"We'll get there, folks," Murphy said.
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