In case a pandemic occurs again, Assembly Democrats John Burzichelli, Gordon Johnson and Joe Danielsen are seeking to establish a more localized approach to slowing virus spread while managing business operations throughout the state. Their legislation creating a county-based mitigation plan unanimously passed the full Assembly Thursday.
“We have seen over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic that a virus can circulate in different regions at different times,” said Assemblyman Burzichelli (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem). “Sometimes certain counties or municipalities will experience a spike in cases while other areas will have the virus under relative control. We need to acknowledge the geographic variations throughout our state and establish guidelines based on applicable risk level to prevent unnecessary business closures in the event of any future pandemics like the one we have dealt with this past year.”
The bill (A-4910/S-3093) would require the Governor to work with the Commissioner of Health to establish a plan that would use empirical data to analyze the regional spread of the disease, then individually categorize each county and municipality as high, moderate or low risk.
Categorizations would take new cases, hospital capacity, positivity rates and other factors into consideration.
“Uniform closures are not always the way to go in situations as complex as a pandemic,” said Assemblyman Johnson (D-Bergen). “Broad, sweeping measures can do more harm than good by restricting or shuttering businesses in low-risk areas that could continue to safely operate even though a similar business elsewhere in the state cannot. Creating a plan that allows the state to act with precision and transparency would allow businesses to anticipate necessary restrictions throughout the duration of any future public health crisis.”
“We need to have standard, transparent metrics for business activity that takes the unique situations in different areas of New Jersey into account when it comes to a pandemic,” said Assemblyman Danielsen (D-Middlesex, Somerset). “A countywide or municipality-wide approach would help save lives while also saving countless livelihoods in those scenarios.”
The plan would establish guidelines regarding restrictions on business and other activities for each area to follow based on their current categorization. For counties with a population of more than 1,500 people per square mile, the Governor could either limit activity countywide or restrict activity by municipality. Counties with fewer than 1,500 people per square mile would have activity restricted by municipality.
The bill further specifies that each municipality could choose to further restrict business activity within its boundaries if local leaders believe data indicates additional limitations are necessary.
Having previously passed the full Senate, the bill now heads to the Governor.