The menu at the Pilsener Haus & Biergarten is nothing fancy.
Sausages and brat, schnitzel and burgers, thick Bavarian pretzels, and a long list of pilsners, lagers, a Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen and dark offerings from Hofbräu that would be well familiar to anyone walking into a Munich beer hall.
It was here in Hoboken where Gov. Phil Murphy, once the ambassador to Germany, sat down with members of his inner circle last Saturday — and unwittingly came into contact with a staffer who later tested positive for COVID-19.
While Murphy has shown no symptoms and so far has tested negative for the virus that has killed more than 16,000 people in New Jersey, he left a public event on Wednesday and went into self-quarantine after learning that Michael DeLamater, his deputy chief of staff who was at the biergarten in Hoboken for a short period of time, had tested positive four days later.
The governor abruptly stepped off the stage of a public event at Camden County Community College on Wednesday, just moments after he learned that DeLamater had tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I will now unfortunately have to take myself off the field,” he said.
Not long afterward, Dan Bryan, the governor’s senior adviser for strategic communications, learned he was positive for the coronavirus as well.
The news of two top administration staffers who positive COVID tests underscored just how easily the highly infectious virus can spread. While Murphy has been a strong proponent of masks and social distancing, and has been reluctant to expand indoor dining in a state where infection rates are suddenly spiking upward once again, the virus was able to infiltrate his social circle within a few short days.
Although health officials are conducting contact tracing, an administration official told NJ Advance Media that DeLamater was prompted to test for the virus by the off chance he came in contact with somebody who had it earlier last week.
“Mike attended a routine work event last week where later on we found out that someone that may or may not have attended the event tested positive,” said Bryan, who is working from home. “We know that Mike did not have an encounter with this person, who may or may not have been there. But out of an abundance of caution, he took a test on Monday.”
By then, DeLamater had already been with Murphy in Hoboken.
Murphy, in an interview with 1010 WINS on Thursday, described the visit to Pilsener Haus & Biergarten as a “social engagement with a handful of our close friends and colleagues.” The gathering included First Lady Tammy Murphy, who also tested negative on Wednesday and remains in self-quarantine, as well as Communications Director Mahen Gunaratna and his wife.
The governor said masks were only removed while the group was seated and dining, which is permitted under the state’s restaurant restrictions.
“We, ourselves, took them off,” Murphy said. “Obviously you can’t eat or drink through a mask so honestly I have to say when people were moving around, and that’s when you really want to make sure you know you’re not sitting with your own little bubble but you’re moving around in your inner mingling with folks who are not part of your family or close friends. Folks were wearing masks at least to the best of my recollection. But at the table, you’re having a drink, you’re eating something, by definition, you’re taking your mask off.”
While the Murphys were at the restaurant for more than an hour, DeLamater joined the gathering at some point for less than 15 minutes and was not directly next to the governor for any sustained period of time, said Bryan.
“I was not really right up against this person,” Murphy said. “It was at most 15 minutes and it was outdoors.”
Also at the biergarten was Adam Alonso, a former top adviser to Murphy who served for a short time as his deputy chief of staff and who owns a stake in the restaurant. Murphy cut ties with Alonso in February, after a news report surfaced that accused him of causing a “toxic work culture” in his role overseeing plans for the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee. The news broke only months after Murphy took on a national role within the Democratic Party as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
The outdoor patio in Hoboken where they sat is an area of about 10 widely spaced, thick wooden tables, where umbrellas shade patrons during the day, and heat lamps keep them warm into the evening. There are QR codes on each table to allow people to pull up the beer and food menu on their cell phones, and there are a few single tables for just two people in the outside area as well. It can be a popular place on the weekends.
It was the second social event for the governor in 24 hours. The night before, there had been a send-off at Drumthwacket in Princeton for former Chief Counsel Matt Platkin, who left the administration to join a law firm.
The next night, the governor and his wife went to the Pilsener Haus and then had a private dinner in the Hoboken area.
On Monday, the governor — who is tested about every two weeks — received one of those regular tests at about 11:45 a.m. on his way to the office in Trenton, where he also stopped by an event with the State Police who awarded a police badge to a young child suffering from cancer.
Murphy then returned to his office, held his regular coronavirus briefing, and then headed out to do “Ask the Gov” in Asbury Park from 7-8 p.m. He went home and did Chris Cuomo’s show on CNN.
On Tuesday Murphy made announced the nomination of a new state commissioner for education in South Orange, and then went to his office in Newark.
Told on Wednesday that DeLamater had tested positive, he immediately went into quarantine.
The governor’s office issued a statement less than two hours later saying Murphy and the first lady were tested again Wednesday afternoon and that both tests came back negative.
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