Gov. Phil Murphy on Saturday called “irresponsible” a social media post from an Atlantic County official saying the state should reopen immediately without restrictions.
In a post on his Facebook page, county Surrogate James Curcio said county officials need to “sound the alarm.”
“Trust American freedom ingenuity and the US Constitution,” he said in the post. “Untie the hands of the Private Sector so it can rescue NJ from this nightmare.”
Curcio did not respond to requests for comment.
After reading the post during his Saturday media briefing, Murphy said if the state were to restart the economy in full now, “there will be blood on our hands.”
“I would just say this, folks. That is irresponsible. … I want to make sure folks understand that. This is literally life and death, and what we need now is responsible leadership. We do not need irresponsible leadership,” Murphy said. “Anybody out there who thinks that ‘Let’s just open the place up’ will lead to lower infections, lower hospitalizations and lower fatalities is being completely, utterly irresponsible.”
State officials on Saturday said the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey has increased by 3,026, bringing the total to 81,420. There have been 231 additional deaths, bringing the state total to 4,070. Atlantic County has reported 392 cases, 19 deaths and 71 recovered. Cape May County has reported 204 cases, with 45 designated as off quarantine and 13 deaths. Cumberland County has reported 269 cases and three deaths.
Curcio’s comments come at the tail end of a week when, nationally, officials began discussing and unveiling plans to reintroduce aspects of pre-pandemic normalcy, though health officials continue to urge caution for fear of a fresh surge in cases. Meanwhile, protests against stay-at-home orders organized by small-government groups and Trump supporters were planned for Saturday in several cities after the president urged supporters to “liberate” three states led by Democratic governors.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said Curcio was successful in getting the governor’s attention and sparking that same debate here.
“South Jersey is far different than North Jersey,” Levinson said. “This is not a one-size-fits-all state. As county executive, to treat us down here exactly the same as North Jersey should be debated.”
Levinson said he understands the frustration Curcio is expressing. He doesn’t agree that unrestricted opening right now is the solution but does urge the governor to take another look at restrictions that he feels may not fit this part of the state with a less dense population.
“What’s the thought process of the governor leaving the boardwalk open but not our parks?” Levinson asked. “It would be much easier to distance yourself at a park.”
“If you want to criticize Curcio’s comments, I think you can criticize the policy at the same time,” Levinson added. “What he’s done is open it up for debate, and debate is healthy.”
County Freeholder Chairman Frank Formica said Curcio’s Facebook post demonstrates the level of frustration felt in the county.
“In one fell swoop, 26,000 people lost their jobs when those casinos closed,” Formica said. “He probably thinks better of what he should have said, but I’m sure he was just frustrated.”
Formica said the governor is doing the best he can, but the idea of an indefinite shutdown is frightening to people.
“We want to get everybody back working as soon as it’s safely possible,” Formica said. “We have to work on a plan. We don’t want the damage to last any longer than it has to.”
Curcio, 59, of Hammonton, announced earlier this year he will seek a third term as Atlantic County surrogate. The Republican was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2015.
The main functions of the surrogate are to probate wills and appoint administrators of estates, according to the Surrogate’s Office website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.