Phil Murphy is getting worried.
“The alarms are going off,” the governor said at today’s briefing after revealing 699 new cases of the virus.
And he’s pretty sure he knows what the problem is – too many indoor house parties, and in short, knucklehead behavior.
“We will not tolerate this devil may care, nonchalant attitude any longer,” Murphy vowed.
By that he means those who host huge gatherings, refuse to wear a mask or “overstuff” a boat.
“We can’t afford any more irresponsible outbreaks,” he said.
He has already talked about some of the problems – graduation parties in Middletown, lifeguard parties on Long Beach Island, a football team party at Rutgers and the massive, 700-person bash at a house in Jackson. Murphy referred to anecdotal evidence of additional gatherings without being specific.
This is not an easy thing for authorities to handle. As has been said previously, when large, indoor gatherings become known, the damage may have already been done Earlier this week, the governor listed the number of COVID-19 cases that apparently emerged from the aforementioned parties. One exception was the Jackson gathering. Virus cases emanating from that party have not surfaced yet, but the governor said he assumes that will happen soon.
Left unsaid is what the governor plans to do about indoor parties that violate state capacity limits?
He eschewed any details, but said, “If we take any steps, we’re not going to wait much longer.”
Soon thereafter, Pat Callahan, the acting superintendent of the State Police, talked about how a diner in Forked River was shut down today after repeatedly violating state pandemic regulations. That could have been coincidental, or a sign of a new, “get tough” policy. Time will tell.
In addition to large gatherings, the governor said mask-wearing, or lack thereof, continues to be a problem. For some reason, this has as much to do with partisan politics as it does medical advice.
Murphy’s critics on the right don’t like wearing masks. That’s a general statement and it may not be true in all cases. But on Thursday, I saw very, very few masks at a rally in Trenton to curb the governor’s executive power. Ditto for a rally last Sunday in Bedminster in support of Donald Trump.
Judith Persichilli, the health commissioner, as is her wont, avoided political rhetoric and said, simply, “It’s not worth taking unnecessary risks.”
Curiously, talk of a crackdown and ringing alarm bells was accompanied by some really good news. State hospitals reported no deaths from the virus overnight. That hasn’t happened in 142 days.
Amid this reporting of “good news, bad news,” the governor summed up the state of affairs thusly:
“Normalcy is not within our grasp.”