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Coronavirus NJ: Don’t minimize challenges | Sweeney/Coughlin

Senate President Steve Sweeney & Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin | March 20, 2020 | Asbury Park Press |

The coronavirus outbreak is an international health crisis that confronts us with unique challenges and dangers that are partially unseen. This is unlike anything we have experienced before.

It is a time that calls for unity, cooperation and some sacrifice.

It is also a time when government, public workers, public services and political leadership are needed more than ever.  There are things only government can do to help protect the public, to contain the virus, to ensure treatment for those who become infected, and to minimize the impact. There will be consequences that impact the health of some, the way of life for most, and the financial security of many.

That is why it is so important that government works together to do what can be done to safeguard the public’s health and addresses the basic needs of all of our fellow citizens, especially those who are most vulnerable.

It was encouraging to see House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reach such a quick compromise on initial coronavirus legislation, and to hear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tell recalcitrant Republicans to “gag and vote for it.”

The leadership, though, has been at the state and local level, where the Senate came together on a bipartisan basis Thursday to pass a package of legislation that the Assembly passed on Monday to deal with various aspects of the coronavirus crisis.

In crafting the legislation we worked closely with Gov. Murphy who has shown leadership despite having to fight through his personal medical challenge. We are sure he will quickly sign the legislation into law.

We would also like to thank Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean and Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick for partnering with us during these challenging times.

We can’t eliminate the crisis overnight, but if we all work together, we can take the actions needed to get through the immediate crisis and minimize the long-term consequences.

As Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday, “people sometimes think that you’re overreacting. I like it when people are thinking I’m overreacting, because that means we’re doing it just right.

If anything, we underreacted as a nation for months and are now racing to do everything we can to provide testing for those with coronavirus symptoms, to track person-to-person contagion and to try to limit its further spread.

Let’s not minimize the challenges we are facing:

The coronavirus threatens to be the worst pandemic since the 1918 influenza pandemic swept across the world. Millions of New Jerseyans are now self-quarantining or sheltering in place to avoid spreading or catching the virus that is particularly life-threatening for our senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions. Over 1.5 million children and college students are now home, while our educators face the challenge of how to provide distance learning most likely through the end of the school year.

Restaurants and bars, malls and casinos, sporting events and theaters have been ordered to shut down in an unprecedented effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus, shuttering much of our economy and resulting in record unemployment claims this week. Not surprisingly, the stock market has plunged, rivaling the crash that triggered the Great Recession of 2008 and wiped out the savings of so many Americans.

We’re not going to know the full healthcare toll of the coronavirus crisis for weeks until we are able to test all of those who report symptoms and all of those that they have been in contact with, and until the daily increase in the number of new coronavirus infections starts to go down, as it has in China and South Korea. We know that it is going to be heartbreaking for so many of us who will lose loved ones.

As we battle this outbreak, we’re grateful for the caring nurses and doctors, the direct care workers who continue to care for the most vulnerable, the state and local government workers whose critical work is more vital than ever, and the hundreds of thousands who will continue to staff our grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations, who manufacture the products we need to keep our supply chains going, and the transportation and warehouse workers who will get it to market.

We need to keep as much of our economy going as possible. We need to recognize that many of our  employers and employees will be struggling, and we have to do everything we can to make sure our small businesses survive so that the hundreds of thousands who are likely to be furloughed or  unemployed will have jobs to go back to when we are finally able to return to our normal lives.

We expect the federal government to pass a massive stimulus package that will help, including direct cash payments to taxpayers and an assistance package for hard-pressed businesses. We will need to do more on the state level to fill in the gaps, and we will rely on our banks, mortgage companies, insurers, utilities and telecommunications companies to provide relief to make sure people are not cut off from vital services if their paychecks are reduced or eliminated.

We’re all in this together, and if we work together as neighbors, as communities, as a state and as a nation, we are confident we will come through this crisis stronger and more united than we were before.


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