Parents and sports officials have made numerous overtures to Gov. Phil Murphy in recent days to let youth baseball in New Jersey get up and running with safety precautions to protect against the coronavirus. They’ve launched a petition, and one mother and baseball academy owner made an impassioned plea to Murphy via a social-media video.
But the governor said Thursday that allowing youth sports to operate is “still a work in progress.”
“I mean, we’re still a work in progress for the National Football League,” Murphy added during his daily coronavirus briefing in Trenton, where he announced another 98 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and another 1,304 positive tests.
Murphy has begun to gradually lift his near-lockdown restrictions in the state as the daily number of coronavirus deaths, cases, and hospitalizations continue to drop, including allowing parks and beaches to reopen and nonessential businesses to offer curbside service.
He added Thursday he would “love nothing more” than to get state health officials to say “it’s O.K. to re-engage on team sports.”
“I hope that’s sooner than later,” Murphy said. “But we’re not there yet.”
The New Jersey Baseball Coalition this week sent Murphy a proposal to restart practice next week and games by mid-June — with coaches and umpires wearing face coverings, players keeping 6 feet apart when not on the field, baseballs being disinfected between innings, and “hat-tips” replacing post-game handshakes.
That comes about a week after the coalition launched an online petition endorsed by more than 100 organizations and expanded in recent days to include softball.
Meanwhile, Beth Gorab, a member of the coalition and co-owner of PS2 Athletics, a baseball and softball academy in Wayne, called on Murphy to help in a video posted to social media.
“There’s a way to do it,” Gorab says in the clip. “We have a plan. We need your help, and we need you to listen to us.”
Murphy said he had not seen Gorab’s video but stressed he’s a “huge baseball fan.”
“I would just ask folks … please keep doing what you’re doing,” the governor added. “Know that it’s something we want to get to, without question. We hope it’s sooner than later.”
“The rationale to be able to do it, assuming you can do it safely, is overwhelming,” Murphy continued. “It’s mental health, it’s physical fitness, it’s going out and cheering for our kids. It’s all the reasons we do sports.”
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New Jersey, a densely populated state of 9 million residents, has reported at least 10,843 deaths attributed to COVID-19, with at least 151,472 cases, since the outbreak began March 4. Only New York has more deaths and cases among American states.
With the economy suffering massive losses, some lawmakers, businesses, and residents have been pushing him to move more quickly on reopening the state, allowing more businesses to allow customers inside as long as there are safety precautions.
The state Republican Party announced Thursday it is suing Murphy to reopen small businesses, arguing he for “arbitrarily” declared which businesses are considered essential.
Murphy was asked Thursday if he could provide the latest prediction models the state is using to decide whether the rest of his orders should be lifted. Some critics argue he hasn’t backed up his decisions with enough detailed data.
”The data that we rely on for the decisions we’re making is the ones that you see every day,” the governor said, without providing more detail. “We don’t have something behind the curtain.”
More than 1.1 million New Jersey residents have filed for unemployment since mid-March, though the number of claims has fallen in recent days. Many say they’ve been waiting for weeks to get paid and have struggled with the state’s busy phone and online systems.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Rob Jennings contributed to this report.
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Brent Johnson may be reached at email@example.com.
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