WCBS 880 Interview: Murphy Talks House Parties, Schools And The Fate Of Indoor Dining

Mack Rosenberg
July 29, 2020 - 5:43 pm

    TRENTON, N.J. (WCBS 880) — Coronavirus is back on the rise in New Jersey, thanks in part to large house parties in the past few weeks.

    On Tuesday this week, the total number of new cases was at its highest point since June.

    Listen Live Now on WCBS Newsradio 880

    New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy spoke with WCBS 880 anchor Mack Rosenberg to discuss the state's ongoing response to the pandemic, the concerns surrounding reopening schools, when indoor dining and bars might return and whether criminal action will be taken against people involved in large house parties across the state.

    Here's a transcript of their conversation:

    Let's talk about these house parties, notably at the Airbnb in Jackson over the weekend. 700 people. We've seen similar things here in New York with a concert out in Southampton. Governor Cuomo has threatened criminal action. Are you going to consider criminal action against the people involved in the Jackson party and at other parties?

    I won't speak specific to the Jackson party, but we've had way too many incidents over the past couple of weeks. Graduation parties, indoor house parties. We knew to some extent the virus is far more lethal indoors than it is outdoors, which is part of the reason why — a big part of the reason — why we've been careful to open up things indoors. We knew to some extent, if you don't have indoor bars open, you might drive some of these parties underground, but enough. And will law enforcement begin to get more involved in pushing back against this trend? You betcha. We have no choice.

    Are we thinking maybe the attorney general might have to step in with charges here?

    To be determined. Nothing specific. I'm not speaking specifically to any one party, but I live in Middletown, we've had a bunch of them there. We had the party in Jackson. We had Long Beach Island lifeguards congregating. It's okay to be outside, especially please wear face coverings and social distance. Those kind of gatherings, for the most part, are good. They're OK. We've got some limitations, but the limitations air high. It's the indoors, lack of ventilation, on top of each other, no face covering, the virus is lethal in those circumstances.

    I want to ask you now about your guidance on reopening schools. You've given students the option to go remote, but will you make a final call on whether or not it's safe for schools to in fact, reopened?

    Listen, we are trying to stay as out ahead of this awful virus as best we can. You mentioned we've had a run up of cases, even just over the past couple of days, but we put out general guidance four weeks ago on schools. We've got hundreds of districts that are now polishing off their individual plans. We asked them to do plans when we closed. Likewise, wer'e doing the same thing when we open... This will not be a normal school year, no matter what it looks like. It is not a normal school year, and I think everyone has to understand that. And we have to commend the folks who are working hard to get us to a good point. But the three values that surround our guidance Number one: health — for kids, educators, staff, families. Number two: education. How do we get the best education possible? We do know that in-person education is far more enriching, far more beneficial for kids. We can't ignore that and thirdly, equity. We have given folks the flexibility — the parents, teachers, kids — the flexibility to remote learn and that's a good thing. That'll, by the way, also help keep capacities in classrooms down. And we're able to do that in part because we found the money to close the digital divide and give every kid a device and access to the Internet. But some families, you know, they don't have that extra room in the house. They have a two-income family where they can't afford literally to stay home. So the equity, particularly in communities of color, the in-person education piece is a vitally important one that we have to keep out there.

    If a school district makes a call one way or the other to go remote, I'm talking the entire school district, will you examine that? Will you maybe step in and change things?

    Yeah, we will examine any district's plans. We take each one of them seriously. And remember, no two districts are alike. That is literally the case. We've got a whole swath of districts in rural communities, suburban and urban, and there's not a one size fits all answer to this, but the answer is we take every plan that's sent our way deadly seriously. We look forward to working with all the districts.

    So the option is there for students who want to go all remote or virtual. But we're hearing from teachers also who have some concerns. Should teachers have the option to teach remotely without having to prove that they're immunocompromised?

    Their concerns are legitimate. There's passion around this issue on all sides — on the health side, on the education side, on the equity side, and I get that. We understand it. We don't begrudge any of it. We're starting with flexibility to allow the kids and their parents to choose that option, and then we'll take it as we come. We will do everything we can to prevent what I've said all along is the hardest nut, which is the passing of the virus from an asymptomatic, healthy, probably young kid who doesn't even know that he or she has it to someone who's older or has underlying health issues. We'll do everything we can to protect those folks.

    So you're saying maybe that we have the guidance for children, maybe we'll see some guidance for teachers in the future potentially?

    We put the guidance out at the state level. It's 105 pages. We added the digital remote flexibility to that when we were able to find the money to buy the devices and pay for the Internet connection for the kids who did not have the device or the connection, and then the districts are going to submit their their plans rather back to us in that context.

    As we get closer to the fall, colder weather obviously ahead here, can you envision indoor dining potentially being allowed in New Jersey before the end of the summer?

    I don't know about before the end of the summer, but I hope so. I mean, I had hoped to get there before the Fourth of July, but the numbers started to get soft. As you've seen, and your listeners know, now a couple of dozen or more states are getting crushed by the virus. Overwhelmingly, it's from indoor activity. As I mentioned, it's far more lethal indoors than outdoors. I certainly can see seated dining with bar service only served by your waiter or waitress to the table. No congregating at bars. I see that scenario first. Love to give you a date. I don't have it yet. I hope it's sooner than later.

    Do you have similar concerns to New York when it comes to making sure bars are in compliance? Are you gonna make sure to separate the guidance for bars from restaurants?

    We don't have indoor dining or bars at the moment. And I think bars, they're going to be much harder to get to. So the answer is almost certainly that indoor dining in the capacity limited, social distance, face coverings, all the things we talk about, almost certainly that will come before any guidance we give on indoor bars. We're just not there yet. In fact, when you look at other states, again, it's overwhelmingly the case. The virus is exploding on the indoors.

    NOTE: The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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