New Jersey's governor unveiled a six-point plan Monday on the state's path to reopening, outlining what will need to be done before things can get back to normal.
The state is starting to see a decline in cases, but is not ready to ease-up stay-at-home and social distancing measures just yet.
“We need this curve to bend down and to stay down,” Gov. Murphy said.
Until then, the statewide stay-at-home order is in effect until further notice, Murphy added. He said multiple times that the state was prioritizing public health first, mentioning in a later tweet "a New Jersey that is restored to economic health because we took the steps to restore, and secure, our collective health."
Reduction in new cases
The state will need to see 14-day trends that show a sustained reduction in new positive test results and hospitalizations.
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"We will also need to see our hospitals step down from functioning under a crisis standard of care," Murphy added.
"We need to ensure that we have a robust and fully functioning health care system ready to meet the challenges ahead."
Greater testing capacity
New Jersey is working to double its testing capacity, Murphy said. He wants them available not just at drive-up facilities, but at pharmacies and even at-home kits. The state will continue to prioritize testing health care workers, essential personnel and vulnerable populations.
That doubled capacity should be reached by the end of May, Murphy said.
"It isn't just the number of tests, it's how fast you can get them back," he added.
More contact tracing
Murphy said the state needs to recruit and deploy "an army of contact tracers" to trace the spread of the virus. He heard from Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli that a contact tracing program will require anywhere from 15 to 81 people engaged in contact tracing for every 100,000 in the state population.
Under that math, New Jersey would need 1,300 to 7,000 contact tracers, Murphy said, but the state is looking at unspecified technologies that would "not only make the work of human contact tracers more efficient but perhaps mean that we need fewer of them."
Safe spots for isolation
When the level of cases is lower, the state will need to track down where people can safely isolate if they test positive for the disease. Isolation helps limit the spread, and the plan is more for the long term than right now, with talks the virus could come back in the fall.
"We are fully prepared that when we restart our economy we will see COVID-19 cases," Murphy said. "Even if we bat 1.000, even if we get everything right, we will see cases," Murphy said. "That's not just the nature of the virus...it is the nature of the reality when you combine it with a reopening, even a responsible, well-timed, well-structured reopening."
"We will see this virus again," he added. "Our goal will be to prevent these new cases from multiplying."
'Responsible' economic restart
The state will look at reopening businesses that are low-risk first, though he did not give examples of what types of businesses would fit into this category. Showing a chart with ranges of "essential and non-essential" and "low risk and high risk," Murphy said that high-risk activities like concerts will not take place in the foreseeable future, due to the density of the crowds.
When more businesses can re-open, customers should expect to wear face coverings in certain locations, and some businesses will continue to have employees working from home if possible.
The measures will be in place to reduce fear and "give residents confidence that we are not only in front of the crisis, but that when we do restart our economy, they should not go out and fear being a part of it."
On Tuesday, Murphy will announce members of the Governor's Restart and Recovery Commission, a consortium of economists, academics, business and labor leaders and health care experts, to discuss reopening plans.
"And I will ask them to help us and our businesses leverage any and all available federal funds and programs to support our recovery," he added.
Later, U.S. Rep Tom Malinowski, D-7th, called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who recently suggested states declare bankruptcy if they are suffering budget issues due to the pandemic's economic downturn.
Towns are debating cutting their budgets including teachers, cops and firefighters, said Malinowski, whose district spans multiple counties in north and central Jersey. The current economic conditions are threatening the survival of "small-town America."
"I'm not sure if Mitch McConnell wants to be the person who is responsible for telling small-town America to go to hell," Malinowski said.
Planning for next wave, pandemics
The state will build up its own stockpile of supplies like ventilators and personal protective equipment, to not be caught off guard in the future.
"Our entire world and our entire worldview has changed," Murphy said. "Pandemics aren't something in a far off place that we just read about in the news anymore. We are living it right here in one of the most advanced states in the most advanced nation in the world."