NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Gov. Phil Murphy appeared on CBS2 News at 5 p.m. to talk with Kristine Johnson.
Johnson opened the interview by asking the governor about a gym that is defying the shutdown order.
JOHNSON: Joining me now live to talk about this situation and also other important issues facing New Jersey during this pandemic is Governor Phil Murphy. Governor, thanks for joining us, and welcome to our broadcast. Have you or any member of your staff spoken directly to the owners of this gym?
MURPHY: I have not. I have not. And it's important to say that, Kristine, first of all, we've had over 10,500 fatalities. Our numbers have gotten a lot better, but we are still per capita probably the most affected state in America. So we're taking one step after another to begin to responsibly reopen. We're just not there yet for gyms, they're a harder nut to crack. So it's not because we don't want to open them, it's we just we just don't think we can responsibly do so.
JOHNSON: What about some other businesses, governor? You know, I've been in contact with an owner of a hair salon in Parsippany, New Jersey, he plans to reopen June 1. Connecticut, they're allowing salons to open in June 1. And you also showed us this graphic here which indicates Connecticut has more new cases, the death rate is pretty much equal to ours, so why not allow these establishments to welcome back their customers?
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MURPHY: Listen, we coordinate really well with our neighbors, most importantly, New York, it certainly includes Connecticut. I can't speak for Connecticut. The most challenging decisions are indoors, close proximity, no ventilation, you can't have the doors open, or the windows open. Those are hard, just there's no other way to put it. I will get there. There's no question, we'll get there. I just can't hang my hat on a particular date right now. Overwhelmingly, small businesses, big businesses have been doing the right thing and I know they'll continue to do so as well.
JOHNSON: Governor I know lives are at stake, no question about that, but what can you offer the small business owners so that they don't feel the need to defy these orders?
MURPHY: We've taken a lot of steps Kristine already. We've got - essential retail's always been open. Curbside pickup for non-essential. We've now got car dealerships, as of today, as of tomorrow morning. There's a whole series of steps that we have taken. We're opening our beaches on Friday, county and state parks are open. So, you know, we've given folks, not only in the actions we've taken, but we've sort of laid out a roadmap at hand where I think folks can see where we're headed.
JOHNSON: Let's turn to unemployment now, governor. 1.1 million New Jersey residents have filed. About 750,000, roughly, are now receiving active claims. Which means, still though, tens of thousands, still waiting for that check. Some of the people I've spoken personally to have filed back in March. Are these results acceptable to you?
MURPHY: I've spoken to a lot of them, by the way, personally as well. And if anyone is out there frustrated because they can't get through, they can't get their benefits, I don't blame them. There's no way you could blame them. But we have to remind everybody a couple of things. This is a tsunami unlike any we've ever seen before. Not just in New Jersey and America. This is not intended to make anybody feel any better, but we have chopped through more of our backlog than about any American state, but most importantly, we will get there, every penny that is owed to someone, including the federal piece, they will get what is rightfully theirs.
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JOHNSON: You know, that's really hard for people sitting at home, as you said governor. People I've spoken to say that really that they just want a real person to answer their questions on the other end of that phone line. So why not transfer resources from other state agencies to help clear all this up?
MURPHY: We have plussed up the team, we've plussed up the technology. We're getting a group of folks who are literally working to the bone. There's some amount of technical expertise which you need. This is not easy stuff, including making sure that you remain in compliance from one week to the next to continue to receive your benefits. Again, I'm not making excuses, and if someone's frustrated, I don't blame them. But the fact of the matter is, there is a plan that is being executed. I think the commitment, this week alone, Thursday to Thursday, was to chop through 140,000 claims in our backlog. That is on track. And, God willing, will continue. Hopefully we'll see some stabilization or our economy in the amount of folks looking for benefits will stabilize, please sooner than later.
JOHNSON: All right, let's turn to nursing homes, governor. You've touched on this quite a bit, and I know your heart goes out to all of the victims out there. But you did change the color qualifications today for some of these numbers, which now brought that number down of deaths, specifically to COVID-19 confirmed by the state, down by about 1,400. Still though, if you look at total deaths, about half of the state reported deaths are now people in long term care facilities. Did the state fail to protect these people and their families?
MURPHY: So, just for folks who may not have seen this, the reason that number came down is we have to make sure we're apples to apples. These have to be lab confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 complications. And so, we were including presumed or possible fatalities. The overwhelming tragedy is they're all the folks who've passed. The long term care reality in New Jersey and frankly any state in America has been the tragedy within the tragedy.
JOHNSON: Could we have done more though, governor? That's my question. You know, a nursing home in Washington State was the focus of an outbreak early in this pandemic. Shouldn't that have been an indicator that these facilities should've been given the same amount of attention as hospitals and our other first responders?
MURPHY: We did. But you've got operators who operate these homes and we need to rely on them just as we rely on operators of hospitals. And so it takes more than just the state to get people to stay safe. We've put in the National Guard ,the VA, the Attorney General's got an investigation. We've hired a national team to come in and plus up. I mean, there's, it doesn't escape the tragedy which is real, but we've thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this and God bless the folks whose lives were lost.
JOHNSON: One last point about this because you brought up the National Guard. On March 27, you tweeted President Trump approved your request for National Guard troops. But it took 42 days to dispatch some of these members to nursing homes. Why did it take so long?
MURPHY: Because if they were a health care worker, they were already deployed in some form or fashion in the COVID-19 fight, in the war. So this is not - there was a real reality here of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I just want to make sure folks realize these facilities are operated overwhelmingly by the private sector and the performance was extraordinarily uneven. The state plays a big role, the federal government plays an even bigger role, but we need, it takes more than that. We need the operators to have done their part and the performance was extremely uneven.
JOHNSON: Okay, let's touch now on schools, governor. You know we've talked about how children have now been doing remote learning. Do you foresee in the future if schools can open in the fall if we do not have a vaccine?
MURPHY: I think we're gonna have to find a way for schools to open in the fall. We won't have a vaccine by the fall. So anyone who thinks that, it's just not, it's not a reality.
JOHNSON: Are we looking then at maybe staggered letter days?
MURPHY: Yeah, we're looking at everything. We don't have a plan in place. We're in the middle of the war. We're trying to finish out this school year by remote, and we've currently got a small army trying to figure out what the fall looks like. It's too early to tell, but it won't be a normal, it won't be like the old days. But I would hope that we can be physically in school in the fall.
JOHNSON: One quick question regarding graduations. You did open up a small window today during your news conference, because they were saying if you could open beaches, why can't we open up football fields for graduations? Are you going to consider this and maybe we can get it in?
MURPHY: It is absolutely under consideration and I hope we can.
JOHNSON: Okay, let's end this on a nice note governor. Looking at the past nine weeks, what has made you the most proud of New Jersey residents which I happen to be of, by the way?
MURPHY: I know you are. Thank you for doing your share. Listen, people have come together. I'll give you two things, and they're very simple. Compliance with all the policies that were put in place has been overwhelming. You started with the gym. The fact of the matter is, that's a tiny example of somebody who's not compliant. People have done the right thing. And then secondly, ordinary folks. I just spoke today about a couple they were going to get married on Saturday. They couldn't get married. So what do they do? They organize a food bank drive to feed families who otherwise wouldn't have food. That, that is one of literally hundreds of thousands of stories I can tell you. It's as good as it gets, and Jersey is coming through. As expected.
JOHNSON: We certainly have some strong residents in our state, governor. That's for sure, and you know what - we wish you the best of health. We know you went from the operating room on the front lines of this pandemic. So best of health to you, to your staff, and your family. Thank you Governor.
MURPHY: Thanks for having me Kristine.
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