More than half a year into the state’s outbreak, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday he’s signing an executive order extending the public-health emergency he declared in New Jersey over the coronavirus pandemic by another 30 days.
This is the seventh time Murphy has extended the emergency, which gives him the power to take executive action to combat COVID-19′s spread. The emergency declaration expires after 30 days if the governor doesn’t extend it.
New Jersey, an early coronavirus hotspot and home to the second-most COVID-19 deaths among American states, has seen its outbreak slow significantly in recent months. And Murphy has already eased numerous business closings and other restrictions he installed in March. Most recently, he allowed gyms, movie theaters, and indoor dining to resume at 25% capacity.
But Murphy said Friday that the state is “not out of the woods yet” and extending the order again “means that we continue to be vigilant and prepared, and ready to act should there be a new outbreak.”
The move doesn’t reverse any of the gradual reopening steps the state has taken, though it does extend all of the governor’s executive orders still in place, such a business capacity limits, mask orders, and more.
Murphy said it also “continues the authority” of the state Department of Health to “coordinate our health system’s response to this emergency.”
“We can’t do a lot of what we do without that declaration,” he said during his latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton.
Murphy declared both a state of emergency and a public-health emergency on March 9 as COVID-19 was beginning to spread in the Garden State.
While the state of emergency remains in place indefinitely, Murphy previously extended the public-health emergency for April, May, June, July, August, and now September. This new extension will remain in place through late September.
A state of emergency gives state authorities certain executive powers and safeguards to respond to a crisis. It also allows the state to receive federal aid.
A public-health emergency allows the governor to take broad action to protect New Jersey under the state’s Emergency Health Powers Act.
Murphy’s extension comes a day after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s leading infectious disease expert, told the governor during an interview Thursday that New Jersey is in “good shape” and can continue to reopen its schools and economy “gradually, prudently, and carefully” despite America facing a possible second wave of the virus.
After more than six months of restrictions, New Jersey has seen its daily numbers drop dramatically since April, when officials were routinely announcing hundreds of new deaths and thousands of new cases a day.
The state on Friday reported 7 more COVID-19 deaths and 612 cases. But Murphy stressed that the state announced about 1,200 new cases in the last two days alone.
Still, many lawmakers — including top Republicans — as well as numerous business owners and residents have called on Murphy to lift his restrictions even further.
State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, said Friday the Democratic-controlled state Legislature needs to stand up to the Democratic governor.
“For the seventh time since March, Governor Murphy has extended the Public Health Emergency that he has used to justify overbearing executive orders that have caused unimaginable disruption to the lives and livelihoods of our friends and neighbors,” Testa said. “They stayed home and many lost their jobs as employers ordered closed by the governor have shuttered forever. It has to end.”
New Jersey has reported 202,100 COVID-19 cases out of more than 3.47 million tests administered since the state’s outbreak started March 4. That’s the eighth most cases among U.S. states.
The state of 9 million people has reported 16,097 deaths related to the virus — 14,306 lab-confirmed and 1,791 considered probable. New Jersey has the nation’s highest COVID-19 death rate per 100,000 residents.