Stimulus Package Could Allow for Stricter COVID Lockdown Measures, New Jersey Governor Says

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy suggested on Tuesday that stalled efforts to pass a new federal stimulus package could be standing in the way of public health restrictions that would shut down businesses to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Murphy said the state could have the "freedom" to close businesses if a new relief bill were passed during a Tuesday appearance on CBS This Morning. Host Tony Dokoupil had asked the Democratic governor if having federal funds available would lead to him "considering shutting things down in the state of New Jersey."

"We'd have more degrees of freedom, without question," said Murphy. "If we see there's transmission. For instance, in restaurants we saw them morphing into clubs after 10 o'clock. We took action. So, if we see transmission, we will take action whether the feds are supporting financially or not."

"If it's a close call on the margin and you've got federal stimulus, in size, that can help these poor small business owners, restaurant owners, folks who are unemployed, that gives you more degrees of freedom without question," he added.

Follow-up legislation to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has remained elusive, due to largely partisan disagreements about the contents of a new bill, almost eight months since the first bill was passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.

Gov. Phil Murphy
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy speaks during an event in Asbury Park, New Jersey on June 18, 2018. Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for iStar/Getty

Last week, it was announced that a stay-at-home advisory would be in effect in New Jersey's largest city Newark during the Thanksgiving holiday due to surging COVID-19 infections. Beginning Wednesday, non-essential businesses will be closed and city residents will be asked to stay home as much as possible until December 4.

While the state as a whole has also experienced a recent surge of cases, Murphy said the current situation is different because "a lot more" is known about the virus than was known in the spring, when the governor issued a stay-at-home-order and closed all non-essential businesses from March 21 until June 9.

"I think we had no choice in the spring," Murphy said. "This is something we knew nothing about as a nation [and] frankly as a global health community. That's an asset today, we know a lot more. This is not all bad news. We're in for a rough couple of months and we've got to keep our guard up, but we know a lot more."

"We have a lot more capacities and the vaccine scene is real," Murphy continued. "They are coming. They'll be safe, they'll be efficacious. But for the next two to three months, we are in a tough war."

COVID-19 has been spreading at an unprecedented rate in New Jersey as winter fast approaches. The state reached an all-time high of 4,669 new cases on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University. There had been 309,588 total cases, including 16,772 deaths, as of Tuesday.

However, new COVID-19 deaths are significantly down compared to their spring peak. While 491 deaths have been recorded so far during the month of November, almost half of all New Jersey deaths occurred in April, when 8,371 people died due to the virus.

Newsweek reached out to Murphy's office for comment.