By George Ajjan
By the numbers, the Garden State was the most afflicted region on the planet for COVID-19. NJ’s death rate of 1,798 per million tops even Lombardy, the Italian province where the pandemic first exploded and shocked the world. Fortunately, our hospitals and health care professionals went above and beyond the call of duty to minimize the impact and save lives, despite some awful judgement calls regarding nursing homes and occasionally glaring double standards concerning social distancing from Governor Murphy.
Several months after the acute suffering of March and April, NJ’s death toll from COVID-19 has slowed to a trickle. Normalcy is finally making its comeback, which makes the priorities of the Governor at this current stage rather confusing.
There is always a tug of war between responsible behavior in the midst of deadly contagion and “don’t tread on me” sentiment, which causes understandable frustration with the Governor’s seemingly ad-hoc imposition of restrictions and cherry-picking of industries to handicap. Yet he has put no attention on exposure to potential new waves of infection from other areas.
For example, consider the approach toward international visitors. Last month, I landed at Newark Airport with my two children, having been away for nearly a year. I had expected a mandatory 14-day quarantine. (Granted, this didn’t trouble me too much since the principle reason for our visit is to spend time with family anyway.) Yet when our flight landed from Frankfurt, Germany, each passenger was only required to fill out a health questionnaire, which can only be described as an embarrassment to competent administration.
Rather than a professionally printed government document identifying the issuing authority, (like the customs form, for example), we received an unbranded blurry photocopy reminiscent of a “ditto” passed out as math homework in the 1980s. The form did not request a passport number, nor a signature. Though it was collected and quickly looked over by a uniformed official before sending us to get our passports stamped at border control, I suspect that I might have gotten away with identifying myself as M. Mouse residing at the Magic Kingdom.
When handing over the form, I inquired about the quarantine and was told rather flippantly that we should just do our best to be careful. Granted, my family and I arrived from a country that was barely affected by the pandemic, so there would be little reason to quarantine us. But if Murphy has enough concern to keep indoor dining, gyms, and potentially even schools closed, surely there should have been a more robust way of validating the safe entry of international visitors than a pitiful temperature scan.
A PCR test literally takes only seconds to deploy. Results are available within hours. Considering the depressed volume at Newark Airport, one would think that the Murphy would have the resources to be able to implement tests and actually require quarantine only for the tiny number who do come back positive and pose a direct threat, rather than continue to inhibit the lifestyle of millions of others, most of whom do not.
Even die-hards who oppose government control would support restrictions on those who could actually infect others rather than a blanket punishment for everyone. This would actually increase confidence in the Governor’s approach and lead to support for more testing, instead of a laughable policy stating that visitors are “being asked to self-quarantine…[it] is voluntary, but compliance is expected.” Imagine if the state’s policy toward not driving while intoxicated was “compliance is expected,” but without any repercussions for possibly jeopardizing the lives of others. Murphy’s COVID-19 policy is based neither on sound logic nor reasonable execution.
NJ residents should not have to abandon the trajectory through the phased return to normalcy. They have earned it. But an absent approach to tracking and stopping new contagion vectors, especially international ones, while maintaining willy-nilly restrictions on millions of NJ residents calls into question whether the Governor’s policies represent public health concerns or something else.
George Ajjan is a political strategist and former Republican candidate for Congress in the 8th district.