By Declan O’Scanlon
“We waited,” Murphy said, “because we wanted to get it right.”
Governor Murphy said that in response to a question about whether he waited too long to call for our state lockdown.
Sometimes hesitating to “get it right” is wise. Other times it’s the hesitation itself that dooms one to failure. Now Governor Murphy faces a similar test of judgement regarding opening our state back up and potentially saving, or killing, our economy.
We faced several major health threats in the last century – Spanish Flu of 1918 and Hong Kong flu in ‘68. But if you ask people today to name the single most negative and traumatizing event of the last century – other than war – that they either lived through or learned about in history books, most would name the Great Depression over either of those deadly epidemics. My point isn’t to diminish the significance of disease, but to recognize the equally life-and way of life-threatening impact of financial ruin.
What we do know for certain regarding the choices before us, is that we can’t save our economy without taking risk. NJ simply can’t choose to destroy our economy, and one of our major economic drivers – Jersey Shore tourism – unless the science is unequivocal that it’s absolutely necessary. Given our trend lines, that’s not likely.
This is not the time for McClellan-like, paralyzing timidity. It’s time for Churchill-like boldness. That’s not to say we should be reckless. We should quickly ramp up testing, provide quidelines, broad polices & recommendations to slow any potential spread of the virus. Then leave flexibility in specifically how to meet those guidelines to local officials and business owners – neither of which wants to kill its customers. We simply can’t decide we should inflict an additional few weeks – or months – of lockdown “just-in-case” or to wait for detailed government-micro-managed controls of all aspects of our lives.
In fact the argument could be made that one critical week can make a huge difference, psychologically and practically, for our economically critical Jersey Shore season. The difference between opening on May 23rd vs June 1 encompasses the first two, critical weekends of the summer, including Memorial Day weekend. Unless our virus trend-lines turn negative in the next two weeks we should move forward with a plan that foresees some substantial level of opening of businesses, beaches, boardwalks, restaurants etc – with reasonable guidelines – on May 23rd. The Governor can caveat that target with a warning that if trend-lines falter, we may have to reconsider.
People are longing for, and it appears the situation justifies, a pivot in emphasis on messaging from endless predictions of doom and gloom and demoralizing open-ended lockdown, to hopeful predictions and plans that envision us coming out of this in time to save our economy. We all know there’s a possibility plans might have to change if news turns bad. We’re reasonable, responsible people. But it’s time for our government to pivot from appearing to be looking for reasons to keep us closed, to finding a clear path to open us up.
Too many people – our Governor sometimes amongst them – miss the dramatic, life-destroying impact if we fail to save our economy. Saving our economy IS saving lives. These are brutal, life and death decisions to be sure. But leaders accept the possibility that they’ll be faced with such decisions when we take our oath of office.
The administration has worked hard and in good faith to keep us safe. But they have made miscalculations as well. We simply, literally, can’t afford to make a miscalculation now.
It is distinctly possible that the things we are all doing now, by virtue of habits likely permanently seared into our brains during the last two months, (not touching stuff others touching, masks when in presence of others, not standing too close to others, more frequent hand washing, more frequent cleaning of door handles and surfaces etc.) will greatly reduce the likelihood of virus spread. Those practices alone may be enough to keep it in check.
The fact that we waited until now to appoint a committee to discuss what this all will look like is a shame, and is on the Governor. But we can’t let that unfortunate hesitation cost us some of the most critical weekends of economic activity statewide – psychologically and economically – of our summer season. We can’t can’t let further delay cause potential, long-term, deep and devastating damage to our economy. Memories of this pandemic will be with us for generations. We don’t want memories of the following months, or years, of self-inflicted economic devastation to stand out, in our minds and in the history books, as just as catastrophic.
Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) is a member of the New Jersey State Senate and former Assembly Republican Budget Officer hailing from Monmouth County, New Jersey.