TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy blasted a Republican leader in Atlantic County for a Facebook post calling for officials to "reopen New Jersey immediately without restrictions.”

Atlantic County Surrogate James Curcio, an attorney by profession, posted the comment Saturday morning, getting more than a hundred comments and nearly a dozen shares.

At the end of his news briefing Saturday afternoon, Murphy sternly called out the statement, saying it was “irresponsible.”

“We quote-unquote untie the system right now, there will be blood on our hands. This is literally life and death,” Murphy said.

Murphy said he was “open-minded” and noted that he has had “good back and forth” with Republican officials advocating for the governor to loosen his restrictions that closed all state and county parks. But he said that his decisions have been based on data.

“Anybody out there who thinks ‘let’s just open the place up’ will lead to lower infections, lower hospitalizations and lower fatalities is being completely, utterly irresponsible.”

Facebook post by Atlantic County Surrogate James Curcio

Atlantic County has had 19 deaths attributed to COVID-19. In South Jersey, the virus has not caused as much devastation as in North Jersey, where Bergen County leads with 741 deaths. Health officials on Friday said that North Jersey's cases appear to have peaked this week while the peak in cases is still to come for the rest of the state.

Murphy’s statement was a rare rebuke of a fellow elected official these days and it came on a day when health officials reported some optimistic news, including that hospitals in the state have begun to discharge more COVID-19 patients than they're taking in. Nearly 9,700 COVID-19 patients have been discharged from hospitals.

Still, more than 7,700 people remained hospitalized Friday night with more than 1,600 of them on life support.

Murphy tempered the positive news by challenging the belief some have that stay-at-home restrictions can be lifted by May. President Donald Trump this week unveiled a plan to reopen the country but said his administration was leaving it up to governors to make the best decision for their states.

Murphy pushed back against the talking point circulating in some circles — and promoted by the likes of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who in February dismissed the novel coronavirus as “the common cold” — that authorities are overreacting, pointing out that COVID-19 in six weeks has killed more people in New Jersey than the flu and pneumonia have killed over three years.

“The flu has not caused the devastation that we are seeing,” Murphy said. “The data we are seeing, the numbers and the science prove how this is a different enemy.”

Murphy said the hospitalization rate for the flu is 1/10 of 1% of all cases whereas the rate for COVID-19 is about 10%, meaning someone with COVID-19 is 100 times more likely to end up in the hospital.

“This is a pandemic the likes we haven’t seen in a century. If you have been keeping your eyes and your mind closed to the facts and to science, please, I beg you to open them — open them wide before you, God forbid, become one of the numbers that I report here every day.”

Murphy also addressed the demonstration by several dozen people in Trenton on Friday afternoon. The demonstrators, who appeared to be organized by groups opposed to vaccinations, called the pandemic restrictions unconstitutional.

“Anybody who thinks we’re doing this to take people’s liberties and rights isn’t looking at the data we’re looking at,” Murphy said. “We’re doing what we’re doing to try to save lives and keep as few people infected as possible … The minute we think we can begin to tweak this, open things up based on the data, facts and science, we are going to be out there doing that. I respect your right to protest but trust us on this: We’re basing this on the facts. Please stay home.”

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