TRENTON, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy defended the state’s new travel advisory amid questions of whether it lacks teeth and suggestions of whether it constitutes retaliation against states that had once imposed restrictions on northeastern states.
The advisory, which was announced Wednesday in lockstep with neighboring New York and Connecticut, merely suggests people traveling to New Jersey from states with rising cases of the coronavirus self-quarantine and get a COVID-19 test.
Murphy and Judy Persichilli, the director of the state’s Department of Health, clarified Thursday that there is no mechanism to enforce the 14-day self-quarantine and no penalty for those who flout the new advisory.
The governor is relying on travelers to “do the right thing” when they come to New Jersey from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents or a state with 10% or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average.
That means there will be no stopping travelers in airports or on highways.
“You can't constitutionally do those kind of things in the United States and that’s overwhelmingly for good reasons,” Murphy said during Thursday’s daily COVID-19 news conference. “... this has been tried by a couple of states and you literally can’t do that. Can we ramp up specific action that Judy could take? Could you ramp up public awareness? Could you do things in the category of moral suasion using the bully pulpit? Absolutely.”
Persichilli said the list of travel advisory states would be updated each week, but the initial list includes Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.
The idea of New Jersey and its neighbors instituting even a ceremonial travel advisory is a reversal of sorts from the early onset of the pandemic when the metro area flared with thousands of new cases each day.
In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order mandating that travelers arriving in Florida from New Jersey, New York or Connecticut self-isolate for 14 days after a plane from Kennedy Airport landed in Palm Beach with a traveler who tested positive.
About the same time, state troopers were stopping drivers with New York license plates before entering Rhode Island so National Guard officials could collect contact information and inform motorists coming in from New York that they were subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine, thanks to an executive order from Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.
In late March, President Donald Trump’s threatened to establish a federal quarantine of the three northern states. Before Trump backed down, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the idea “un-American.”
Despite the drama concerning travel advisories, Murphy said the one enacted by New Jersey, New York and Connecticut is not retaliatory.
“We take no solace or joy in the hell other states are going through that we have gone through,” said Murphy. “We hope and pray they get better fast. But we have to do, within our abilities – and again, we can’t stop you at the border just because you have a certain license plate. It’s America, you can’t do that. But you can use as we’re trying to, the bully pulpit, an advisory, not just a recommendation but an advisory. I love the fact that Judy is adding the testing piece to that which I know she feels is an important element of us to do the right thing here. There’s zero retaliation here from yours truly.”
Murphy announced that, after thorough investigations of thousands of death certificates by members of the state’s Health Department, has created a probably COVID-19 death toll.
That means by the data released Thursday, New Jersey has 13,018 confirmed deaths and 1,854 probable deaths.
Edward Lifshitz, medical director for the Health Department, said that the majority of probable COVID-19 deaths are people connected to long-term health facilities who had COVID-19 symptoms.
“But they never got tested,” he said, “which was common early in the outbreak when it was impossible to test everybody.”