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Gov. Murphy on NJ’s ‘very strong’ position to fully reopen schools by fall

New Jersey, once among the states hardest hit by COVID-19, reported a little over 350 new cases Wednesday. The state's Democratic Governor, Phil Murphy, announced that many indoor masking requirements in public places will be lifted this Memorial Day weekend, and schools are expected to fully re-open in the fall with very limited virtual learning. Gov. Murphy joins Judy Woodruff for more.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Rules for how to stay safe are changing quickly, as COVID vaccination rates increase nationwide.

    New Jersey was once among the hardest-hit states, but infections are now low, just 350-plus new cases reported yesterday.

    Governor Phil Murphy announced that many indoor masking requirements in public places will be lifted this Memorial Day weekend. The state also expects schools to fully reopen in the fall, with very limited virtual learning.

    And Governor Murphy joins me now.

    Governor, very good to have you with us again.

    So, tell us first, overall, how is the state of New Jersey doing in the battle against COVID?

  • Gov. Phil Murphy, D-NJ:

    Right now, Judy, very well, thanks to the efforts of literally millions of New Jerseyans. They have done the right thing overwhelmingly.

    And we feel like we have got this thing on the run, at long last. As you rightfully pointed out, New Jersey got clobbered, particularly early on. And then we had the second wave that others had. We have lost over 26,000 of our residents.

    But, as I sit with you today, we are in very good shape, and, God willing, it will stay that way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Governor, you have announced new rules for public places indoors. People don't have to wear masks in many circumstances.

    Tell us about that.

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    Yes.

    So, beginning tomorrow — Judy, you are exactly right — based on the public health metrics and the progress we have made, we have already said, as of — for a long time, if you're outside, you don't need to wear a mask. Now we're saying, if you're inside, if you're vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask and you don't need to worry about social distancing.

    We're opening up completely our outdoor capacities. It's a big step. I mean, we have been pointing toward Memorial Day since December. And early on, it was tough sledding, but I'm really happy we're able to take these steps.

    It's the Jersey summer. It's the Jersey summer on the shore that kicks off tomorrow. And it's — I hope, God willing, it will be a great step toward a great recovery.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Governor, as we understand it, it is pretty much an honor system. You're asking people, whether it's in the workplace or another public place, to trust that others without masks have been vaccinated.

    What made you comfortable in going ahead with that?

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    Well, first of all, Judy, our vaccination program is in full force. We have put over 8.5 million shots into arms.

    About four million New Jerseyans right now are fully vaccinated. Our goal is to get to 4.7 million by the end of next month. I believe we will get there. And, secondly, folks have done the right thing.

    We talked since the beginning about the knuckleheads who did something wrong or stupid in this pandemic. There are, in fact, very few of them. Folks, by the millions in our state, did the right thing. And, lastly, I don't want to put the burden on the supermarket employee or the hardware store employee to be the judge and jury on who's got a vaccine and who doesn't.

    We're asking folks to take personal responsibility and do the right thing. And I — we have done that before. And I'm confident we can do it again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Governor, you had another big decision to make, as we mentioned, and that is saying that your schools will be open in person for all children starting in the fall.

    What makes that feel like the right decision to you, when these children are not going to be — we don't know in any way whether they're going to be vaccinated by then?

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    On the right decision question, we just feel, again, like we have got the virus on the run. The vaccination rollout in New Jersey has gone not a straight line. And we still have a lot of ground to cover on equity and brown and black communities.

    But I am completely confident that we will continue to have a strong program. And, thirdly, the learning loss, the mental health impact on kids, their families, educators, has been overwhelming. So we're going to be back in school Monday through Friday full on. But it may well be with public health parameters because of, among other things, your very fair point, we now have vaccines that are authorized down to the age of 12.

    There are vaccines in trial for younger kids, but they're not yet approved. So, my guess is, we're going to see some combination of public health parameters, at least at the beginning of the school year, to make sure we can open up safely and responsibly.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And even aside from those who are vaccinated, we're already hearing from parents who are saying, if my child is immunocompromised, or has some other health issue, has disabilities, I'm not comfortable yet having that child go back into the classroom.

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    Yes, a couple of things.

    First of all, New Jersey's got a great longstanding track record of watching out for kids and educators and staff who have got serious medical issues. That will not change.

    But, secondly, I have to say, three-and-a-half months from now, in a pandemic, with the numbers going in the right direction, might as well be a lifetime. I really believe that we will be in a very strong position and very, very much able safely and responsibly to open up wide in September.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, but will parents be able to appeal in individual situations?

    Because I'm thinking parents from all around the country are listening to these conversations right now.

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    Sure. Yes.

    The answer is, they always have been able to. We have always, in New Jersey, made accommodations. I think the bar has been historically very high for that. And my guess is, it will continue to be high, but absolutely. We're not going to put someone's life at risk.

    And we wouldn't be making the steps we're taking, to say definitively school will be open, if we thought we were putting folks' lives at risk. But, clearly, we will not do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And one other thing on the schools, Governor.

    I saw that the head of your largest teachers union saying the other day that she doesn't — she says there are still many school buildings in New Jersey that don't meet minimum standards for the health and safety of students and educators.

    How do you respond?

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    Yes, we have heard the same. And the fact of the matter is, we have got either old — a lot of old buildings and/or buildings that are old with older ventilation and other systems.

    We have been chopping through these facilities. We will continue to. The American Rescue Plan money that we have gotten is going to be a big accelerant in our ability to get to that sooner than later, particularly with ventilation systems.

    But it's a work in progress. But I'm highly confident we're going to get there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Governor, what is — for you, what is the worry that you have as we head hopefully toward a much better place with this pandemic?

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    You know, I hope that we continue to do the right thing. And I am highly confident that we will, again, by the millions.

    For all the press and focus, including from yours truly, on the folks who are not playing by the rules, folks just doing the right thing, enjoying the summer responsibly, getting outside and continuing — continuing along. The health metrics are really strong right now. We expect them to continue, but we will watch them like a hawk.

    And, again, we have paid an enormous price here. But we are clearly in better days right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, we thank you so much again for joining us on the "NewsHour." Thank you.

  • Gov. Phil Murphy:

    Thanks for having me, Judy.

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