Phil Murphy often talks about having a tough skin and not caring if people agree with him or even like him. He did it again today at his regular briefing.
But there are limits. Today, he blasted those who try to score political points by spreading what he says are falsehoods.
Specifically, the governor reacted to conservative social media posts that said he dined “indoors” over the weekend at a restaurant in Bayville to get out of the rain. Only outdoor dining is permitted in New Jersey.
Murphy said the report was untrue, adding that he was not inside and that he ended up with wet clothes and a ruined wallet to prove it. He reiterated that he can put up with stuff like that, but expressed concern that such tales could encourage people not to take regulations seriously.
And if that causes people to get sick, the purveyors of the untruths will have “blood on their hands.”
This was tough talk from a governor who also said he was suspending previous plans to resume indoor dining with restrictions on Thursday.
“We must hit pause,” he said.
Two things drove the pause. One is what’s happening across the country. Anyone who pays even cursory attention to the news can see how COVID-19 cases are spiking in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states that began reopening in early May. In many of these states, the problem seems to be mostly young people congregating in bars and restaurants. Young people may not get a severe case of the virus, but they can spread it to those who are more vulnerable.
Additionally, Murphy said he was troubled by “knucklehead” behavior in some New Jersey establishments after the opening two weeks ago of outdoor dining.
He said some bars are showing a “disregard for social distancing.” He blamed both operators and patrons for that.
Murphy put it this way, “These are the ones who ruin it for everyone else.”
The governor said he considered publicly identifying some of the culprits to shame them, but decided not to – at least for now.
Overall, the data continues to be good. New cases and deaths are down significantly from even a month ago. But there are still some stubborn problems, including nearly 1,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and a transmission rate that has inched up a bit, although it’s still less than one.
Despite overall good news, Murphy said, “This war is not over.”
A pandemic certainly upends conventional thought.
Reflecting on the spiking of cases in other states, the governor just about apologized in advance when he made the following observation.
“If I could build a wall around the region, I would.”