NJ gov. urges people to take coronavirus seriously, 'no time for business as usual'

"We won World War II not because we panicked, but because we were smart."

March 22, 2020, 9:38 AM

As the spread of the novel coronavirus ripples across the country, the nation's governors are on the front lines of the battle to curb the evolving crisis. Many of them, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, have taken drastic measures in their home states to fill gaps that the two Democratic governors say were left by the federal government.

In an interview with ABC "This Week" Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz, Murphy urged people to take the crisis seriously in order to decrease the pressure on the health care industry.

"My view is we die trying," Murphy said, "I think the flattening of the curve, the social distancing, telling everybody ‘just stay home' gives us a real shot to keep the numbers down (and) to keep the pressure lesser than otherwise would be on our health care system."

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Murphy signed an executive order on Saturday directing all New Jersey residents to stay home until further notice. Although the order allows for certain exceptions that include obtaining essentials like groceries or seeking medical attention, Murphy says the goal is to strengthen social distancing measures. According to the order, "all gatherings of individuals, such as parties, celebrations, or other social events, unless otherwise authorized."

"Folks need to be jolted, ... it's no time to panic, but it's no time for business as usual," he said. "We won World War II not because we panicked, but because we were smart."

As Congress and the White House work to finalize a package to address the economic and health challenges created by the spread of COVID-19 across the nation, Murphy stressed the greatest need in New Jersey is personal protective equipment, or PPE.

"We are in desperate for more PPE," Murphy said. "We've had a big ask into the strategic stockpile on the White House -- they've given us a fraction of our ask."

Murphy also warned that the spread of the virus would put a staggering economic cost not only on his state, but also on those in the surrounding region.

"We need Congress and the president to send direct cash assistance," he said. "We think New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut alone those four states need $100 billion direct cash assistance to allow us to continue the fight."

PHOTO: Left: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Right: Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey
Left: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces the state's first two cases of coronavirus, at the Michigan State Police headquarters in Windsor Township, Mich. March 10, 2020. Right: Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey announces the closure of all school during a news conference in Trenton, N.J. on March 16, 2020.
David Eggert/AP, David 'Dee' Delgado/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Whitmer echoed Murphy's concerns about needing more assistance from the federal government and both governors also responded to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor's comments earlier on "This Week" when he said that masks are being shipped from the national stockpile, but could not provide details on a concrete timeline.

"We need a big slug out of the strategic stockpile," Murphy said Sunday.

Whitmer added that she is working with private companies to purchase masks.

"We need the federal government to get us those test kits," Whitmer told Raddatz. "We need PPE, as Phil was just saying, we need (a) clear directive and guidance from the federal government."

Whitmer said that while each state will continue to work to alleviate the economic and human toll of the virus, "it would be nice to have a national strategy."

A day after holding a conference call with the nation's governors, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to lash out at Whitmer, referring to her as a "Failing Michigan Governor." Whitmer responded with a list of actions she pursued in response to the crisis facing her state.

"Had the federal government really started focusing when it became clear that the whole world was going to be confronting this, we would be in a stronger position right now," Whitmer told Raddatz on Sunday.

"I've got to keep solving problems and I would like the federal government to be a partner, I can't afford to have a fight with the White House," she added.

Whitmer also issued a stark warning about potential future repercussions.

"Lives will be lost because we weren't prepared," she said. "Our economy will struggle because we didn't take this seriously and early enough as a country, and there are going to be consequences."

Although the Michigan governor did not explicitly say whether she would institute the same kind of drastic measure as her New Jersey counterpart enforced on Saturday, she urged for heightened awareness from the public when Raddatz asked what the situation in Michigan would be in two weeks.

"We've had an infant detected to be having COVID-19, so the fact that this is only one segment of our population that is exposed or in danger is ridiculous," Whitmer said. "We have to all take this seriously and every one of us needs to do our part."

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