Government Confronted with a Crisis

Murphy in Somerset

TRENTON – Phil Murphy appeared at precisely 2:31 p.m. and got right to the point.

“This is an anxious time,” he said. “We completely understand that.”

Few would argue with that. My local supermarket in Morris County Thursday evening was very much a madhouse. If people weren’t jammed around the check-out counters with overflowing carts, they were reaching for a quickly vanishing supply of canned goods and paper products. It was as if hordes were preparing for some type of unprecedented self-quarantine.

This is really what government faces when confronted with a crisis.

It must do its best to confront the problem at hand – coronavirus in this case. But on the other hand, it must soothe fears and give the impression “something” positive is being done. And that normal life is not over .These two things are naturally related, but they aren’t necessarily identical.

Murphy did his best to show competence in dealing with the virus itself, talking about limiting exposure by prohibiting large gatherings – more than 250 people – and closed schools. He also talked about helping the populace deal with such routine things as going to the MVC and delivering supplies. He said license renewal monthly deadlines will be extended and that some regulations will be altered to allow trucks to make needed deliveries.

There’s a larger challenge here, of course.

He was asked what people should do this weekend. Or as the questioner put it, “Should I go to the mall?”

Yes, the governor said, adding that he wanted the “smell of business as usual” as much as possible. So there would be nothing wrong with going to the mall or out to dinner, as long as safe procedures – such as “social distancing” – are followed.

Some may recall that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush suggested that people go shopping. There was some negative feedback at the time, but in retrospect, advising people to live normal lives was prudent.

In contrast, the governor also was asked about the wisdom of a simple state-wide quarantine. The questioner spoke of asking everyone in the state to “shelter in place” for 14 days.

Fortunately, at least in my opinion, Murphy said he wanted to lessen public anxiety, not ratchet it up. The notion of the state telling people to stay in one place for 14 days should give anyone who cherishes democracy and individual liberty the chills.

The governor and others on the panel spoke about the lack of tests for the virus. That’s a problem to be sure, but as was also pointed out by some of the health professionals present, there is no need for anyone to be tested unless there’s a possibility they are ill with the virus.

And on that score, we now have 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Jersey. Earlier this week, there were 15 and on Thursday, there were 29. So, quite obviously, that number is going to rise.

Yet, we must never forget that we have 9 million people in New Jersey.

That really is the challenge for Murphy and his team. You must prepare – and sometimes over-prepare – for the worst. But you should never forget that the number of cases statewide is small. That could help calm the growing anxiety.

And if not, there’s always black jack.

It was pointed out today that Atlantic City casinos are still open.

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