NEW JERSEY — Gov. Phil Murphy sought to pump the brakes Wednesday on growing optimism among New Jerseyans that there will come a time when the "masks can come off and the dancing can begin.”

Murphy, commenting on a reporter’s question at his daily COVID-19 news conference, said social distancing as a way of mitigating the spread of the coronavirus will be the norm for the foreseeable future.

“The notion that we’re going to go back to some sort of, let’s just turn the clocks back to three months ago, I just don’t see it,” he said.

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Murphy said he and his staff have spoken to several health care experts, including Johnson & Johnson President and CEO Alex Gosky and White House infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci, in search of a COVID-19 timetable.

He said that until there is a vaccine – which he said could be more than a year away – or widespread and instant testing, going back to normal will take a long time. And even then, it could be a very gradual return to pre-coronavirus life.

For instance, the experience of visiting your favorite restaurant may be unrecognizable, with tables spaced 10 feet apart.

“I can easily see the restaurant protocol – a temperature check of you, or if it’s available maybe a quick saliva test,” Murphy said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be that available. You go inside, the servers are masked and gloved. The wiping down of surfaces is hyperaggressive. You’re at 50% capacity.”

Murphy referenced a Harvard study released yesterday that suggests Americans will be practicing social distancing until at least 2022.

And even then, he wondered if life has been irreversibly changed by the coronavirus that now has hit at least 71,030 state residents and resulted in 3,156 deaths in New Jersey.

“I don’t know if we’re going to anytime soon go back into the – what I love, I must say – the big handshake, kiss on the cheek, hug, high-fives,” Murphy said. “I think those are postponed for the foreseeable future.”

Murphy said he is being pressured from parents – he refers to their requests as “incomings” - about resuming high school sports and figuring out a way to have a graduation ceremony.

“We’re trying to figure that all out,” he said. “I just don’t see it. I take my cues from the health experts and I will continue to. I don’t see a normal, even if it were to take place, a normal gathering in the foreseeable future.”

Although he continued to harp on the need to adhere to his executive orders to stay at home, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some good news from Wednesday’s news conference in regard to the path forward

Murphy said that the new Rutgers-developed saliva test could be a game-changer. With the FDA- approved test, rather than deep nasal and throat swabs, patients just need to spit into a tube. The RU test can process thousands of samples daily, all of which can greatly speed up the number of people who are getting screened, as well as help get a better control on the reach of this pandemic.

“We are working intensely with Rutgers and specifically now with Middlesex County today to roll out this new testing and we will closely monitor how everything goes,” he said.