Politico

Murphy: Exposure to staffer who tested positive for Covid occurred over drinks


A trip to a German beer hall in Hoboken, N.J., will cost New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy his weekend.

Murphy, who on Wednesday announced he would be entering quarantine after being alerted during a press conference that Mike DeLameter, his deputy chief of staff, had tested positive for coronavirus, said Thursday morning that his exposure to DeLameter happened over drinks.

“At the table, you’re having a drink, you’re eating something. By definition, you’re taking your mask off,” Murphy said during an interview on radio station 1010 WINS. “Everybody who was at the table that we were at is going off[line] and either has gotten tested. In fact, I think everyone has been tested to this point. And I believe to the best of my knowledge everybody else, thank God, has been negative.”

Murphy, a former ambassador to Germany under President Barack Obama, and first lady Tammy Murphy met Communications Director Mahen Gunaratna and his wife at the Pilsner Haus & Biergarten in Hoboken on Saturday evening. After roughly an hour, DeLameter “joined in toward the end for less than 15 minutes, and was not close to the governor or First Lady for a sustained period of time,” Murphy spokesperson Dan Bryan said in a statement Wednesday night.

The governor’s office announced earlier Wednesday that Bryan, who was not at the Saturday evening gathering, had also tested positive for the virus and remains asymptomatic.

Both the governor and the first lady tested negative for Covid-19 on Wednesday afternoon. Murphy said he’d likely be tested at least a few more times in the next several days before resuming his normal schedule.

Murphy, who for months has used his regular Covid-19 briefings to hammer at “knuckleheads” who ignore social distancing rules, said everyone in his group at the Hoboken pub wore face masks until they sat down at a table to eat and drink.

The governor has been slowly loosening Covid-19 restrictions around dining and indoor activities since June, a few weeks after New Jersey’s first wave of the pandemic began to ebb. In recent weeks, with viral spread accelerating and daily reports of new cases climbing, Murphy has begun to sound cautionary notes about the future of New Jersey’s economic reopening and has ramped up messaging around social distancing and personal responsibility, particularly as it relates to indoor events.

“I was not really right up against this person,” he said Thursday, referring to DeLameter. “It was at most 15 minutes that we were outdoors. Having said all that, we’re taking the steps we’ve taken out of an abundance of caution. And we reserve the right by the way — based on tests and other developments — to extend this as we think we need to.”

Murphy added that several other members of his staff may have been exposed to DeLameter at their office and are also entering quarantine.

Even after entering quarantine, Murphy doesn’t see a need to impose new Covid-19 restrictions on businesses to limit the effects of a second wave.

The average number of daily cases reported by state officials has climbed above 1,000 in the last week, and hospitalizations, a metric that Murphy’s often cited as a real-time indicator of the pandemic’s severity, have also been rising steadily. On Wednesday, the state reported 1,062 new cases and 884 hospitalizations.

Against that backdrop, the governor once again indicated any future restrictions would be undertaken with a “scalpel [rather] than a hammer,” adding that indoor and outdoor capacity limits “are something that we constantly think about.”

“There is enormous fatigue right now. And who can blame folks? I’ve got fatigue. Who doesn’t?” Murphy said during an appearance earlier Thursday on MSNBC. “As long as that’s the case, we have to appeal to people to remember their personal responsibility. No state has done a better job of that than New Jersey. But the clock is ticking.”

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