PHOTO of MCCONNELL: ERIC THAYER | Credit: REUTERS
Odd things happen in a pandemic.
Phil Murphy said today that the state was not “looking to bust a kid for underage drinking.” There was context here, but it was still a strange thing for a governor to say.
A few minutes later at his regular briefing, the governor fended off criticism from Republicans who claim the state has spent very little of the $2.4 billion it got from the feds through the CARES Act. Yep, Republicans are complaining about not spending money.
Let’s start with the underage drinking.
Seems like there was a recent teenage party in Middletown – Murphy’s hometown no less – and now 31 local residents have COVID-19. Not all are believed to have gotten it through the party, but enough apparently have to raise concerns.
The emerging problem is that many of the party-goers, or perhaps their parents, are not cooperating with contact tracers. The mission of state-employed contact tracers is pretty straightforward.
They “contact” those who have just gotten the virus and ask them a series of questions. Some of this is personal stuff like whether they have access to a private bathroom or special diet needs. They’re also asked who they may have been in contact with. As Murphy said, the idea is to stop the spread.
The reluctance to cooperate comes from an apparent belief authorities will ticket teenagers who were drinking at the party.
Teenage drinking is hardly a unique phenomenon, but it is also illegal.
Murphy today spoke about both the illegality and also the reality. Those under 21 should not imbibe, but that’s not the point here.
“This is not a witch hunt,” he said, explaining that rounding up teen beer drinkers is “not anyone’s focus now.”
Instead, he called contract tracing a “race against the clock” in terms of stopping community spread.
Common sense may be taking hold. The governor said reports today were that more people were cooperating with the contact tracers. After all, even if one wanted to arrest a teen for underage drinking, it’s tough to do retroactively.
As for parties in general, Murphy said many large, indoor gatherings that eschew social distancing and mask wearing may be moving “underground.” Guess you can call it the speakeasy effect.
Wherever these parties take place, the governor said that if they’re indoors, people are “playing with fire.” He added,
“There’s no two ways about it.”
Clearly, authorities are not going to be raiding basements, so common sense is key, the governor said. The metrics in New Jersey remain encouraging. The state’s positivity rate is less than 3 percent and the transmission rate is less than 1 percent. Still, Murphy is concerned about the future, a position that’s tough with which to quibble.
As for money, Murphy continued his sniping at Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, for a proposed COVID-19 package that contains no money for state governments. He said this may be a political game for the man from Kentucky, but that for many states – red and blue – it’s a matter of survival.
But he also had some local Republicans on his mind. The governor was asked about GOP criticism that the state has been slow to spend the federal money it already has gotten.
Untrue, Murphy said, contending that just about all of the $2.4 billion has been “allocated,” or has been held-up until guidelines are clarified.
He shrugged off the Republican criticism, saying, “Certain people out there could never be satisfied no matter how many steps forward we take.”