Phil Murphy is old enough to remember the old TV show, “The Untouchables,” so it seemed appropriate that the governor did an Eliot Ness impression today in describing how the state will deal with “knucklehead” business owners.
“We will shut you down,” he said.
Completing this portrayal of a previous era, Murphy had just talked about how Paterson police shut down two “speakeasies” over the weekend. It made you wonder if anyone busted up a keg of beer with an axe.
“You may think this is a game of cat and mouse,” or something “cute,” he said.
Not so, the governor reminded his listeners, violating state pandemic rules can be deadly.
Murphy announced 3,573 new COVID cases today and 17 deaths as the virus continues to surge after subsiding during the summer and early fall.
It’s not that the state ever “looked the other way,” but Murphy seems more determined to crackdown on violators.
State executive orders limit restaurant patrons to 25 percent of capacity. Masks must be worn when not eating or drinking and social distancing enforced. More recently, the governor ordered an end to indoor service at 10 p.m. in an obvious attempt to control over-drinking.
Last Friday, Murphy got into a verbal spat with Matt Gaetz, a Republican congressman from Florida, after he attended a New York Young Republican gala at the Maritime Parc restaurant in Jersey City. Photos showed a congested group with most not wearing masks.
The governor called the congressman a fool.
A day later, the restaurant’s management fired off a statement saying the gathering didn’t violate the state’s capacity limit. That seemed plausible; the Maritime Parc at Liberty State Park is a big place. The statement also explained that in these tough times, restaurants and catering halls can’t afford to turn away any business, which is a valid point.
Murphy didn’t say anything today about last week’s drama, but on a more upbeat note, he said he had a chat over the weekend with Joe Biden that broadly covered three topics – the pandemic, stimulus money and the Gateway Tunnel. He said the president-elect should be a good partner for the state in all those areas.
But the governor continues to be unhappy at a growing refusal of state residents to cooperate with contact tracers. The premise seeks to determine through interviews how rapidly and thoroughly an infected person has spread the virus.
At last count, more than 70 percent of those contacted refuse to cooperate. Murphy says he knows some are suspicious of everything the government does, but that bloc can not be overly large.
So, the governor concludes that some are afraid of detailing their movements if they recently held a large party, especially if it included under age drinking.
Murphy says many may think the state is “trying to uncover something we are not trying to uncover.” He insists that state contact tracers care only about controlling the virus.
But he admits the lack of response is “just, really, really frustrating.”