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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy: ‘All states’ need more federal aid now

New Jersey is second only to New York for total deaths caused by COVID-19. While most other states are lifting pandemic restrictions, the Garden State has been in a near lockdown for months. But now, Gov. Phil Murphy is making plans to allow some non-essential businesses to reopen. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss his state’s grim fatality statistics and what it needs from the federal government.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Few states have been hit harder by the coronavirus than New Jersey, which is second only to New York for the total number of deaths caused by COVID-19.

    And while most other states in the country are reopening, the Garden State has been under near lockdown for months.

    Earlier today, its governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, announced plans to allow some nonessential businesses to reopen.

    And he joins us now from Trenton.

    Governor Murphy, thank you very much for talking with us.

    It is the case that New Jersey has had some of the worst numbers in the country, but you have also seen improvement, by all measurements, in the last few weeks, in terms of cases, in terms of hospitalizations, and even deaths.

    You did make this announcement today to begin to open up some businesses. How do you make a decision like that?

  • Governor Phil Murphy:

    Good to be with you, Judy.

    And you're absolutely right. We have made progress, and yet we are, particularly in terms of cases per 100,000 residents, fatalities per 100,000 residents, hospitalizations, we're number one in the nation, so even more impacted than New York on a per capita basis.

    We have to balance it. We opened up state and county parks two weekends ago, imploring folks to keep up social distancing, wear face covers, limiting capacity on parking spaces. That worked quite well.

    So, we're — you know, our progress has allowed us to take some more what I would call baby steps. There will be no day, at least that I can see, that we will flip a big light switch and a whole lot of things are going to happen all at once.

    We're going to take, I think, a series of iterative steps, and that — which also, by the way, gives us a chance to evaluate them in real time, to see how things we announced, nonessential retail curbside pickup today, we expanded construction, we allowed drive-through, three steps that we can monitor over the coming days.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    So we were looking at some other statistics. When it comes to new positive cases per 100,000 people, New Jersey is still struggling, if you will, when you compare to other states.

    Is this one of the reasons that you are holding back? Because we know you, like other governors, are getting pressure from business owners, from others to open up.

  • Governor Phil Murphy:

    It is one of the reasons. You're absolutely right.

    So, if you look at per capita numbers of all the American states per 100,000 residents, unfortunately, we're in the pole position on positive tests, hospitalizations and fatalities.

    Now, having said that, your opening remarks are also true. We have made enormous progress over the past couple, three weeks on hospitalizations, flattening the test curve, ICU beds, ventilator use, the heat maps that we look at.

    So, essentially, we're in one of these moments, that we're trying to balance the progress with still in a grave, serious situation, and recognizing that, while we have made a lot of progress, we're not out of the woods yet.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, I want to specifically ask you about nursing homes, because, as I was looking today, you have had something like 5,000 deaths among nursing home, long-term care facility residents.

    More than half of your state's fatalities have been nursing home residents, well over the national rate. The worst outbreak has been at a home for military veterans in Paramus. Over 90 percent of the residents there have been — have tested positive, 72 deaths.

    What do you say to the families of these people?

  • Governor Phil Murphy:

    It's awful.

    I mean, the tragedy within the tragedy is long-term care facilities. You know, we're the densest state in America, and our density is a huge asset most days. In something like this, it's a huge cross that we bear, frankly.

    It's a tragedy. There's just no other way to put it, and it isn't just veterans' homes, although it is certainly our blessed veterans we have lost. But we have got this running through our state, as, by the way, most other state has as well, but we're no exception to that.

    The performance by the operators has been extremely uneven. This is a virus, clearly, that eats away at older folks, particularly folks with underlying health conditions. We have thrown everything at this, more staffing, National Guard, the VA. Our attorney general has launched an investigation.

    We have hired a nationally recognized firm to come in and plus-up our staffing and oversight. It is the tragedy within the tragedy. New Jersey is no exception. But it is certainly the case here. And you're absolutely right. It's over half the fatalities in our state to date.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Will there be policy changes as a result of this?

  • Governor Phil Murphy:

    Absolutely. Absolutely.

    This is an industry — again, this is not unique to New Jersey. This is an industry which is very unevenly regulated. And the performance is uneven. And that's being charitable, including the very basic stuff of communicating with loved ones on the status of a resident, for instance,.

    But the answer is absolutely yes. Yes, there will be changes to this industry in our state and I would guess our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, part of the work that you're saying you're going to be starting to do now involves, as we have been discussing nationally, contact tracing, of course, more testing.

    You were talking about that? Does New Jersey have the financial wherewithal to cover what it is going to cost to do the necessary testing and contact tracing?

  • Governor Phil Murphy:

    Yes, we will do what it takes in terms of testing and contact tracing.

    And we have promised to at least double our testing, by example, by the end of this month. New Jersey does not have all the resources it needs. And New Jersey is not unique. And it's not unique just to blue states either.

    This is a time for direct federal cash assistance to states. I applaud Senator Menendez in our state, who has got a bipartisan bill with Senator Cassidy of Louisiana. I applaud Speaker Pelosi, with whom I'm speaking regularly, including this morning, on the bill she came out with yesterday.

    That's exactly what the doctor ordered, and, again, not just for my state, but for all states in the middle of this. This is the most critical health care crisis, the biggest crisis any of us have ever faced.

    And at this moment in time, we need the federal government there in a big way in terms of its financial support.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I'm sure you know Republicans, from the leadership on down, are saying they don't see a rush to do this, that a lot of these states asking for money have mismanaged their finances and shouldn't be given more money until they spend what they have got.

  • Governor Phil Murphy:

    Yes, I would say not all Republicans.

    The good news is, we're starting to see Republican governors and Republican members of Congress also say the right things.

    Yes, I heard what Senator McConnell said a few weeks ago. And this has nothing whatsoever to do with our legacy issues. That's a complete myth. This isn't a blue state issue.

    This is about our ability to continue to employ vs. laying them off. Can you imagine laying off firefighters, police, first responders, EMS, health care workers, educators at the very moment we need these people more than we have ever needed them in the history of our country, to be left with no choice but to lay them off?

    That's the reality, if we don't get federal direct cash assistance. And it's, again, not just blue states. It's all states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey.

    Governor, we wish you the best with all you're working on. Thank you.

  • Governor Phil Murphy:

    Thanks for having me, Judy.

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