TRENTON, NJ -- During the daily COVID-19 press conference in Trenton on Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy and NJ Department of Labor Robert Asaro-Angelo reported that the state’s unemployment rate has hit 15.3%. 

Gov. Murphy, who is coming under increasing pressure from small business owners to reopen the state, said his administration is reaching out to literally thousands of businesses and nonprofit organizations to direct them to a short survey that will better inform government efforts "as we look to take the next steps along the road back."

This short survey will be hosted on the information hub. While all the feedback will be public, respondents will remain confidential, the governor says.

Sign Up for Holmdel & Colts Neck Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

"We know that the impacts of COVID-19 have been varied across industry sectors, and while these sectors are represented in the panels we have brought together, nothing beats the input from those living this reality," Murphy said during his press conference. "So to all the business owners and nonprofit leaders,  I thank you personally in advance for your participation and feedback. Just as we're all in this battle against COVID-19 together, we're all going to be part of our restart and recovery together."

Also at Thursday's press conference, a reporter asked Murphy for comment on the lawsuit that New Jersey Republican Party leadership filed against him "for what they say is arbitrarily choosing which businesses are essential."

The governor's response: "They sued me? As you can tell, I spent a lot of time focused on that suit." He did not discuss the lawsuit any further.

Small businesses in New Jersey have been hit particularly hard, particularly barbers, hairdressers, salons, gyms, bars and nightclubs. Many retailers, which remain closed while big box stores like Walmart, Target and Home Depot are allowed to stay open, face the possibility of having to permanently shut their doors, their owners say, if they are not permitted to reopen soon. 

“We make the decision about what’s essential and what’s not essential based on data, science, facts, health,” Murphy says.

Meanwhile, the Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, NJ, was shut down on Thursday for defying executive orders and reopening this week. The owners of the gym have received multiple summons from Bellmawr police, and several gym members were also cited. The owners claim they are operating with a variety of social distancing and sanitation protocols, but Stage Health Dept. Commissioner Judy Persichilli wrote in her shutdown order that "No members of the public, including members of the gym, shall be permitted inside of the facility." 

Earlier in the day on Thursday, the governor addressed the growing calls for reopening the state economy on CNBC.

"This is something we have not even seen before. Data determines dates, and more broadly public health creates economic health. We ripped the Band-Aid off the economy, which has been extraordinarily painful for job loss, for small businesses, and for many other sectors," says Murphy said in an interview on CNBC Squawk Box. "But the alternative was to let the virus go... If we open up too early, it's throwing gasoline on the fire. You'd have a bigger whole ultimately.

"I would hope it is a matter of weeks if we keep seeing the curves and the progress that we've seen," Murphy said about the timeline to reopen hair salons, indoor restaurants and other businesses in the state. "My big fear is that people will die needlessly because politicians are rushing a reopening contrary to public health guidance and data."

"I want to open up as much as anybody, trust me. I want to get folks back to work as fast as possible--but if we screw up the public health piece none of that will happen. That's the side we need to err on," the governor said, adding that by the end of next week the state will be doing over 20,000 COVID-19 tests a day."