And while Murphy says the state is “confident” that it can maintain its social distancing standards through these next steps, New Jersey is “still not in the endzone” in defeating the virus. To help get there, the state outlined a contact tracing program on Tuesday to reach out to individuals who may have been exposed to the virus. By Allison Perrine “All safety protocols mustbe clearly posted at the jobsite so workers will knowthat their health and safetyis priority number one,” saidMurphy. The announcements come as trends show that since the peak of the virus, from April 10 through 15, new hospitalizations are down 65 percent, from 409 cases April 10 to 301 cases May 12. The total number of hospitalizations are down 48 percent, from 6,391 April 15 to 4,250 May 12. And patients in intensive care units and on ventilators are both down “significantly,” said Murphy, dropping 37 percent and 42 percent, respectively. On Wednesday, Murphy announced that he will allow the restart of nonessential construction and the opening of nonessential retail stores for curbside pickup only, effective Monday at 6 a.m. He is also permitting drive-thru and drive-in events to take place under social distancing guidelines, effective immediately. This permits drive-in movie screenings or religious services as long as individuals remain in their vehicles. The concept of the program is not new to the state, the governor added, as it has been utilized during “other efforts” to battle communicable diseases. The only thing that differs, he said, is the scope and the scale of the program. “In other words, we’re going to have to use contact tracing unlike its ever been deployed before.” “We’re moving slowly and deliberately because any misstep risks further outbreaks,” said the governor. “If we transpose public health and economic health, or if we jump the gun, it is quite clear experts from all persuasions in New Jersey… and in the United States and in the world will tell you that you risk reigniting this fire.” NEW JERSEY – Gov. Phil Murphy has preached that “public health creates economic health” and that “data determines dates” on when he will reopen the state. Now, as public health and data continue to improve showing fewer COVID-19 infections, the governor is easing some social distancing restrictions and executive orders. On April 6 when the state first shared its worst projections, officials were preparing for more than 36,000 hospitalizations, 9,000 ICU patients and 7,500 patients on ventilators. But thanks to social distancing efforts of New Jersey residents, that “never really came close,” said Murphy. As of Wednesday, the total number of positive COVID-19 cases statewide is 141,560, with 9,702 total deaths. Additionally, Murphy said that April revenue collections for the state are down nearly 60 percent compared to last April, an unprecedented $3.5 billion, due to the virus shut-downs. ALLISON PERRINE Sandy Hook reopened to the public Saturday, May 9, and locals are now encouraged to enjoy the nice weather while adhering to social distancing mandates. “We are beginning thecareful process of restartingour economy and getting ourstate on the road back,” saidMurphy. Once construction sites reopen Monday, workers will be required to wear face coverings and employers must prevent overcrowding on the site and prohibit nonessential visitors. Employers will also be required to stagger work hours and breaks and ensure proper sanitation protocols are being adhered to. Looking ahead to potential next steps for reopening the state, Murphy said he and state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli are working with doctors and hospitals throughout the state to develop a responsible plan to reopen facilities for elective surgeries. He hopes to announce the plan in the coming days. “Testing on its own is notenough. We also have to havethe infrastructure in place tofully follow up on those tests,and to reach out to those whomay have been exposed toCOVID-19 by someone whotests positive in the future,”said Murphy. The article originally appeared in the May 14 – 20, 2020 print edition of The Two River Times.