Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged Thursday that he did not wear a mask — because he was eating and drinking — at an event where he came into contact with a senior staff member who later tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the governor to quarantine.
But Murphy has tested negative twice since the encounter and has shown no symptoms, he said.
“I feel like a million bucks,” Murphy said in an interview on the radio station 1010 WINS.
Murphy offered a few more details about the circumstances leading up to his abrupt decision to leave an event Wednesday in Camden County to go into quarantine.
Here is what we know:
Weekend gathering with friends
Murphy and his wife, Tammy, hosted a “social engagement” with about six “close friends and colleagues” Saturday night at the Pilsener House & Biergarten in Hoboken, according to the governor and his office. It lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. Toward the end, the deputy chief of staff for governmental affairs, Mike DeLamater, showed up. DeLamater later tested positive for COVID-19.
“I was not really up against this person,” Murphy said. “It was at most 15 minutes, and we were outdoors.”
Because food and drinks were served, Murphy and others were not wearing masks. His executive order allowing outdoor dining does not require patrons to wear masks while dining, but they must when going indoors.
“We ourselves took them off,” Murphy said. “Obviously you can’t eat or drink through a mask. I have to say, when people were moving around … folks were wearing masks, at least to the best of my recollection. But at the table, you’re having a drink, you’re eating something, by definition you’re taking your mask off.”
When asked whether he had shown any lapse in judgment, Murphy said no.
“We were outside having a beer. Tammy and I are trying to get around the state as best we can, to go out responsibly and try to set an example, but also specifically to give business to places around the state,” he said. They wore masks when they walked in and left, he added, and “even when we were sitting down before our drinks were served, we had them on for a fair amount of time.”
Who was there?
Murphy said about a half-dozen people were at the gathering, but neither he nor his office has identified everyone. Besides Phil and Tammy Murphy, the governor’s office said communications director Mahen Gunaratna attended with his wife, Erin, and DeLamater arrived toward the end.
No other staff members were there, according to Murphy’s office. Everyone else who attended has been tested and, to the best of his knowledge, Murphy said, got negative results.
A second senior staff member, Daniel Bryan, also tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, but he was not at Saturday’s event.
Murphy will quarantine through at least the weekend, his office said. He anticipates being tested again Saturday and Monday “before I get back seeing people again.”
In the meantime, the front-office staff is working remotely, Murphy said. The governor’s schedule is not changing much, though. He’s canceled all in-person events until he gets medically cleared to resume them, but he did two remote interviews Thursday morning and held a briefing with reporters on Zoom in the afternoon.
“In the world we live in, the change in terms of running government is not as profound as it might otherwise have been,” Murphy said.
He said his whole staff is expected to be tested by Friday.
Murphy’s exposure shows vulnerability
The governor’s potential to have contracted the disease caused by the coronavirus is yet another example of how transmissible it is and how it can reach anyone, even the president of the United States.
On the same day Murphy announced he was quarantining out of “an abundance of caution,” the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed written by his predecessor Chris Christie expressing regret once again that he did not wear a mask while near President Donald Trump last month. Christie was then hospitalized for a week with COVID-19.
Christie wrote that “there is no safe zone from this virus” and advocated for the regular use of face coverings — something Murphy has done for months.
“It’s simply a good method — not a perfect one, but a proven one — to contain a cough or prevent the virus from getting in your mouth or nose. Wear it or you may regret it — as I did,” Christie wrote. He went on: “I am lucky to be alive. It could easily have been otherwise.”
Murphy, a Democrat, and Christie, a Republican, have virtually no common ground besides this. When asked on MSNBC whether this was an opportunity for the two to work together to depoliticize the use of face masks, Murphy didn’t shoot it down.
“I want to take my hat off to him. It takes somebody with a lot of character to stand up and say, ‘You know what, I screwed up,’ or ‘I was wrong,’ ” Murphy said. “Whether it’s with Governor Christie, whether it’s with other folks across the political spectrum, I do think there’s an opportunity here to say, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t politics. This is about science, this is about facts.’ “