The COVID-19 pandemic has now dominated the lives of New Jerseyans for almost two years, and the state’s response to the deadly, rapidly spreading disease is now playing a leading role in the campaign for the governor.
Polls suggest most people supported the way Gov. Phil Murphy, a first-term Democrat seeking re-election, handled the public health crisis, with 62% of voters saying he did “good”. work, ”according to a recent Monmouth University Institute poll.
The survey also indicated that more than one in four voters believed Murphy had done a “bad job” in dealing with the pandemic. Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, a former state assembly member, eagerly exploits this opposition and seeks to convert the few remaining undecided voters, who tend to blame Murphy for COVID-19 deaths in homes New Jersey nursing, struggles faced by small business, or both.
But with Murphy’s high marks for leadership during the pandemic, which first emerged in New Jersey in early March 2020, and six in 10 voters ready to agree to stricter infection control measures, Ciattarelli appears to have a difficult battle. Election day is Tuesday, November 2, but early voting began on Saturday. All state lawmakers and local candidates are also on the ballot this year.
“Murphy’s handling of the pandemic continues to be his greatest asset. New Jersey residents acknowledge that there have been some missteps over the past eighteen months, some of them very serious, but that has not significantly weakened their overall view of its COVID performance, ”said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth polling institute, said when the group released the findings in September.
The Murphy approach
New Jersey was among the first states in the country to be hit hard by the coronavirus, and COVID-19 has since been diagnosed in nearly 1.2 million people, of which nearly 28,000 have died. The disease – and the economic fallout that followed – has been particularly devastating in black and Hispanic communities, and people of color are at least twice as likely to die here from COVID-19 as white people.
Shortly after the first diagnosis, Murphy took unprecedented steps to quickly shut down schools, workplaces and public spaces to reduce the spread of the infection. Despite this lockdown – and a government face mask mandate, a ban on group gatherings and other pandemic precautions – the coronavirus has spread quickly. Testing capacity was limited for weeks, making it harder to slow this spread, and a shortage of public health officials hampered the state’s ability to chart the course of the virus.
By the end of March, acute care hospitals in New Jersey were nearly inundated with COVID-19 patients; ventilators, nurses and protective clothing were also valuable, and hundreds of new patients were admitted daily.
In April, something had to give. Hospitals were desperate to refer stable patients to facilities that could continue to treat them until they were strong enough to return home. But nursing homes – which traditionally played this role – had been closed for weeks to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 entering institutions and spreading among frail elderly people who also call them home.
Murphy faced what would become one of his most controversial pandemic decisions – requiring New Jersey nursing homes to accept inpatients for rehabilitation, even if they tested positive for COVID-19. When announcing the order, State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli stressed that these facilities – which were also hungry for the new revenue generated by inpatients – must be able to separate safety infected people from residents who were free from COVID-19.
Republicans were quick to blame Murphy for the high death toll in long-term care, where 8,600 residents and staff have lost their lives to COVID-19. It’s a view shared by some in the industry, including a nursing home operator who warned Persichilli on a conference call that the decision would mean “patients will die.” The audio of that appeal was broadcast widely by Republicans, and the prosecution became a mainstay of Ciattarelli’s campaign, which created an ad titled “Death Sentence” that blames Murphy for the deaths.
Public health officials say the Murphy administration had no legitimate alternative, given that hospitals were perhaps days away from being forced to ration care, and report studies indicating the virus has also been introduced by infected staff into their communities. They also point out that long-term care – in New Jersey and across the country – has suffered for years from a lack of resources, including staff, in large part because of the low wages involved. When the pandemic hit, these facilities also struggled to secure enough masks, gowns and other protective gear, making it even more difficult to control the virus.
Days after the health ministry order, hundreds of nursing homes told Persichilli they did not have the resources to properly separate people with COVID-19 from other residents. The state eventually contracted with several large long-term care companies to create space in regional facilities that could be used exclusively for COVID-19 recovery, a situation that has led some established residents to be relocated elsewhere. temporarily.
Investigate what went wrong
Murphy and Persichilli have largely defended the move, but the governor has vowed to investigate what went wrong. That spring, the administration hired a consultant to identify weaknesses in the state’s nursing home system and recommend solutions. The June 2020 report called for increased state oversight, greater transparency in nursing home ownership, additional funding for frontline worker wages, and other reforms, many of them lawmakers codified as bills which Murphy then enacted.
The deaths in New Jersey nursing homes are a “tragedy within tragedy,” Murphy said during a recent debate co-sponsored by NJ PBS and he reiterated his commitment to conduct a full and independent account of the state’s response in these establishments once the pandemic has subsided. Ciattarelli said on his website that, if elected, he will “thoroughly investigate” deaths in nursing homes and public veterans facilities and “hold those responsible accountable, and ensure that nothing such does not happen again. “
By May 2020, the impact of the virus was waning in New Jersey – while increasing elsewhere in the country – and the Murphy administration began to slowly withdraw from pandemic restrictions. But the pace of that process, which has again slowed as cases have escalated this fall in what would become the state’s second wave of COVID-19, has frustrated some restaurateurs and other small-scale operators. companies, who said the demands stifled their right to earn a living. This sentiment has continued as the economy struggles to recover and more transmissible coronavirus variants lead to new infection control policies.
Some New Jerseyans have also raised concerns when the Murphy administration set out mask warrants and other guidelines designed to keep children safe in schools, so they can resume in-person learning in September. 2020. Epidemics would eventually force most schools to resort to virtual classrooms for some. if not most of the year.
For fall 2021, Murphy demanded that everyone in schools mask off and that teachers and staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests, policies that have further inflamed opponents. Those protocols continue to evolve, but two-thirds of voters support the use of face coverings in schools, according to a Monmouth poll in August, and half said they would support a schoolchildren vaccination mandate. Immunizations are currently approved for people 12 years of age and older.
Accuses Murphy of “royal complex”
Over the past year, opponents of masks and vaccines have grown into an increasingly vocal minority, with a regular presence at school board meetings, government events and other public forums. Their anger has also fueled Ciattarelli’s campaign, which accuses Murphy of having a “king’s complex” in the way he dictated the response to the pandemic. Murphy says he’s just following the science.
Ciattarelli said there is research to support her own beliefs as well, including studies that show masks can be harmful to children, especially young children, and can hinder learning. But he did not provide details when asked during the last gubernatorial debate. “I just believe that my role as governor, once elected, is to provide all the information people need to make an informed decision,” Ciattarelli said at the event. “I will always promote, preserve and protect public health and safety. You give people the information they need, and then the choice is theirs. “
When COVID-19 vaccines became available in December 2020, Murphy set a goal of inoculating 70% of eligible adult residents the following July; At first, New Jersey residents were anxious to get vaccinated, creating a huge imbalance between supply and demand, but the pace of inoculations slowed down in the spring. Murphy has since asked healthcare workers, state employees and government contractors, in addition to education officials, to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 tests. Nearly 6 million New Jerseyans are now fully vaccinated.
Ciattarelli said he was vaccinated and urges others to join him. But he also insisted that the government should not force drugs on people, despite a long history in the United States of requiring schoolchildren and others to get certain injections.
Murphy says his opponent’s stance on masks and vaccines is harming public health. “The tragedy today is that there is a playbook,” he said during the recent debate. “We know vaccines work. We know masking works, ”he said. “For people, ignoring this, ignoring this game manual, is unnecessarily endangering lives.”