Report says New Jersey businesses can open now

Starting 6 a.m. Wednesday, Salerno Duane can resume in-person vehicle sales after weeks of a shuttered showroom, lost revenue and laying off 50 of its 70 employees. It’s almost as if Gov. Phil Murphy heard Duane’s plea to NJTV News moments before his reopening announcement.

“We’re going to have to lay off people that we hired back because there simply is not enough business to keep them. In fact, we would have to open pretty soon, like this week, in order to get the flow starting again and get people comfortable with coming back to a showroom,” Chip Duane, the dealer’s principal, president and co-owner, said.

Duane says his business follows guidelines to sanitize the dealership and practice social distancing. Those are among the actions a new report says all New Jersey businesses can do to reopen. A Morris Chamber of Commerce task force concluded, “… we can control the risk of exposure to the virus sufficiently to allow us to restart the economy and get our citizens back to work.”

The task force of hygienists, toxicologists and occupational health professionals assessed risk factors for more than 300 business categories and determined “… 80% of industries have either a minimal (70%) or moderate (10%) risk score and can easily apply mitigation procedures to get back to work quickly.” Fifteen percent, such as grocery stores that never closed, “…. will need to do more to ensure they open safely.” Another 5% “… will operate safely by using medical-grade mitigation procedures.”

Bruce Groves, the report’s co-author, says businesses remain closed because no one’s really looked at it from a risk standpoint.

“Everything has been done in a crisis mode, and there’s some good reason for that. When health care was first starting to address some of the issues, people were concerned that this would be a tidal wave. The crisis is over when it comes from a health care approach,” Groves said.

“I think it proves, pretty convincingly, that most of our economy should be reopen by now and that people can go back to work safely,” state Sen. Anthony Bucco said.

The task force report aims to give the Murphy administration a much different view of how to restart the state’s economy and on a much more broad scale and much sooner before businesses are driven out of business.

But, that’s not how the governor sees it.

“We’re trying to manage risk here as well, and so I applaud them for their efforts, but I would also remind them that there’s one binding set of rules of the road and it’s ours. And that has been the case and that will be the case,” Murphy said Tuesday during his daily press briefing. “We move as one state. We don’t move — as good as their plan might be, and by the way, maybe we’ll learn something. I’m always looking to learn.”

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association is looking for a better way to assess how quickly to restart the state’s economy.

“There is a look-forward plan of phasing in, but we don’t have targets on any of the metrics so we don’t know what we’re looking at. What is the magic number in decrease in hospitalizations or any of the other four factors? So the governor put out four factors, which is important, but we don’t understand what the targets are. If you look at something like the New York plan, they have metrics that have targets. The other thing is we need an assessment tool for business to understand where they fall in the vulnerability risks,” Michele Siekerka, the group’s president and CEO, said.

“The more these numbers drop, the more confidence we will have that we are ready to move from stage 1 to stage 2 of our restart and we can begin planning for more business reopenings,” Murphy said. “We purposely have not married ourselves to dates because we don’t want to give any false hope. We have purposely married ourselves, however, to the data.