After downplaying COVID-19 threat, Trump says NJ should have acted sooner
After spending months downplaying the potential for disaster from the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump on Tuesday faulted New York and New Jersey for not acting sooner.
"For whatever reason, New York got off to a late start and you see what happens when you get off to a late start," Trump said. "New Jersey got off to — and I think both governors are doing an excellent job … but they got off to a very late start."
On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged the president's remarks indirectly, pointing out that his administration has been meeting about the coronavirus since January and had its first "whole-of-government" task force meeting on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 2.
"We got on this very early," Murphy said during his daily news briefing on Wednesday.
Trump declared a national emergency regarding the coronavirus on March 13 — four days after Murphy declared New Jersey's first-ever public health state of emergency.
The Trump administration issued a travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut this weekend, an action that came weeks after the Murphy administration had begun to take increasingly dramatic steps to contain and then slow the spread of the virus.
The CDC travel advisory came eight days after Murphy ordered all non-essential businesses to close to the public and banned gatherings of any size. By then, New Jersey had already closed schools, libraries, beauty parlors and barber shops, sit-in restaurants and bars, theaters, and had instituted an 8 p.m. curfew for residents.
From January to early March, Trump had been downplaying the potential threat of the virus, saying on Jan. 30 that "we have it very well under control." A day later, his administration imposed restrictions on foreign nationals traveling from China after major airlines had already suspended flights.
On March 9, the day that Murphy declared an emergency in New Jersey, Trump compared the virus to the flu, suggesting that the response should be the same: "Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on," he tweeted.
A day later, as New Jersey health officials ramped up their instructions on social distancing and self-quarantine measures, Trump was telling reporters to "just stay calm. It will go away.”
The messaging from the White House has gotten direr in the past two weeks. On Tuesday, government health officials predicted that as many as 200,000 Americans could die from the virus.
While Murphy, the chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association, had been a fierce critic of Trump, with his administration mounting dozens of lawsuits against the Trump bureaucracy, Murphy has had nothing but words of gratitude for the president and Vice President Pence during the health crisis.
During his daily briefings, Murphy often mentions his daily phone calls with the White House and points out the ways the federal government has helped. The aid includes planning four field hospitals — one of which will be ready in less than a week at the Meadowlands Convention Center — and in deliveries of much-needed personal protective equipment for medical workers.
On Wednesday, Murphy noted that the federal government had delivered another 350 ventilators from its stockpile, adding to the 300 that the feds had delivered on Tuesday and the 200 that the state took several weeks ago. Murphy said the state needs another 1,650 to be prepared for a crushing surge anticipated in about two weeks.
On Tuesday night, seven hospitals in North Jersey had to divert patients because of a lack of workers or beds.
The state on Wednesday added 3,649 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 22,255 since the first week of March. Another 91 patients died overnight, for a total of 355.
New York leads the nation with more than 83,700 cases and 1,900 deaths in a month.
Murphy's delicate approach to Trump is also being taken by other Democratic and Republican governors. Trump, however, has singled out the Democratic governors of Michigan and Washington for "complaining" and not being appreciative.
“We are doing very well with, I think, almost all of the governors, for the most part," Trump said last week on Fox News. “But you know, it’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well.”
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.