The Storm within the COVID-19 Storm


For at least one day, the pandemic was no match for the weather.

Phil Murphy began what officially was a COVID-19 update today by saying there were nearly a million New Jerseyans without power. And at the height of the storm on Tuesday, that number was 1.4 million.

In comparison, Superstorm Sandy knocked out power to 1.7 million residents, putting this recent storm with the ridiculous name – Isaias – in the league with one of the state’s most tragic weather events.

Weather has nothing to do with politics. Or at least, that is how things start out.

Once the storm ends, the politics starts. So many politicians are judged on how they respond.

Chris Christie – and his fleece jacket – became so famous after Sandy in 2012, that his reelection a year later was never in doubt. And this in a state with a huge Democratic voter registration advantage.

Murphy learned something about weather in November of 2018 when a severe ice and snow storm – unusual for the fall –  caused massive traffic standstills throughout the state. One of those stuck on the highway was Christie, who complained about how a usual 45-minute trip home took five hours, or something like that.

Murphy looked even worse when it surfaced that he had dined the night of the storm in a fancy restaurant, albeit at the bar.

Of course, since then the governor has declared “a state of emergency”  whenever there’s a hint of inclement weather. This latest state of emergency, which was declared before sunrise Tuesday, was at least well founded.

Murphy spent this morning doing what governors should do – touring hard-hit areas to look at storm damage. There were a lot of downed trees, which can topple power lines, crash into homes and block roads.

By the time his briefing rolled around, the governor was quoting Shakespeare.

“For the rain it raineth every day,” he said.

Things got back to a more pedestrian level quickly enough thanks to Joe Fiordaliso, the chair of the state Board of Public Utilities. Fiordaliso bypassed literary genius for a more down-home description of things.

“New Jersey got literally whacked,” he said, somberly adding that it can take through this coming weekend for all power to be restored.

He also gave customary advice about not touching downed power lines, which is something a sane individual wouldn’t do anyway.

But emphasizing the point, Fiordaliso recounted a story about a live wire crashing into a car’s windshield and melting the glass.

“Imagine  what it can do to you,” he said.

Soon after that, we were on to the pandemic. The state’s positivity rate is 2.57 percent and the rate of transmission is 1.32 percent. Both metrics are good, but still not good enough for Murphy to reopen indoor dining and gyms. However, the governor did say that we might be getting to the “front end” of the rolling, seven-day average of positive data needed for those things to happen.

As has been the case for the last week, Murphy stressed the need to wear masks and not to have large, indoor parties.

“This is no time for thinking that someone else can wear a mask and not you,” he said. There is talk in the Legislature about subjecting those who do not wear masks to fines.

The governor said he likes the “spirit” of that idea, but he needs to see the details.

He admitted that cracking down on illegal house parties is difficult. But he added, a bit cryptically, that the state has been getting “advance notice” of some of them.

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