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Gov. Murphy on NJ COVID-19 lockdown: 'we're not there yet, but all options are on the table'

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy joins Yahoo Finance's Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss his recent executive order to protect the state's workforce, what marijuana legalization would mean for the state in terms of revenue and job opportunities, and much more.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: As coronavirus numbers spike across the country, New Jersey has become the first state to mandate health and safety standards for all workers in both the public and private sectors. Governor Phil Murphy signed the executive order this week that requires employers to follow the protocols as of 6:00 AM, November 5th. And the governor joins us now. Good morning, Governor. Why mandate this now, and can you share with us some of the protocols?

PHIL MURPHY: You betcha. Good to be on with you, Alexis. We're doing it now frankly very simply because the federal government should be doing it, and they haven't done it. So our congressional delegation was working very hard to make this a federal reality, and they'll continue to, I know. But we can't wait any longer.

So I've signed the executive order-- you're absolutely right-- the other day. It goes into effect next Thursday at 6:00 AM, and it's basically a list of both rights on the employee side, as well as obligations on the employer side. It sets up protocols for the employer must provide masks; must have a clean, sanitized workplace; allow workers to take breaks to wash their hands with soap and water. It sets up a complaint online setup so that folks can raise their hand if they think an employer is not doing their-- living up to their end of the bargain. There's a fair amount of training in-- and help so that everybody understands exactly the protocols and their rights and obligations. It's pretty comprehensive, and I'm proud of it. I just wish the country were doing it.

BRIAN SOZZI: Governor, you recently put out a tweet calling attention to the newest wave in COVID-19 infections. How close are you to another lockdown of New Jersey?

PHIL MURPHY: Brian, we're not there yet, but all options are on the table. We have over the past several weeks leaned hard on a scalpel approach. So we had, for instance, an outbreak in one of our fastest-growing communities, in Lakewood in Ocean County. We plussed up and surged testing, tracing, enforcement, public service announcements. We worked with community and faith leaders. That feels like it worked, and we're now going to try to replicate that playbook in other hotspots. Newark right now is one of them, our biggest community.

If we have to shut the whole place down, we will. I just hope we-- we were one of the first, if not the first, states in America to do that in March. I just hope we can avoid it again this time.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Governor, what's the state of the hospitals right now in New Jersey? I know that hospitalizations have surpassed 1,000 patients for the first time in four months. Are they better prepared this time around with PPE?

PHIL MURPHY: Yeah, I mean no question. I'm going to speak, forgive me, out of both sides of my mouth because our concern is real, and the spike is real. But on the other hand, you're absolutely right. We just crossed 1,000 patients in the hospital, but our peak in the spring was 8,300. So we're still, thank God, a long way away from that, but we have a lot more bed capacity, personal protective equipment. We've built our own very large stockpile of ventilators. We test among per capita among the highest of any American state. We know a lot more about the virus in our medical community than we did eight months ago.

So we have a lot going for us, but, you know, there's no denying at the same time that this is real. People are dying. People are going into the hospital, and we need everybody to sort of band together again, push back on that pandemic fatigue, and bring the numbers back down.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I want to get to the economy for a moment, Governor, because states are facing their biggest cash crisis since the Great Depression. I know that voters in your state are going to be voting on whether or not to legalize marijuana. If they go ahead and do that, what's that going to mean for revenue in your state?

PHIL MURPHY: Yeah, that's on the ballot on Tuesday. You're absolutely right. The public sentiment is strongly in favor. I hope that's what happens on Tuesday. I just want to say before I give you the revenue answer, I get there because of social justice. When I became governor, we are the widest white-nonwhite gap of persons incarcerated, believe it or not, of any American state, and the biggest reason was low-end drug offenses. So I get there first and foremost because of social justice.

Having said that, assuming that it does pass we'll build an industry. It'll be a revenue generator. I think at first it will be modest, but it ultimately will grow, I think, into the several hundred million dollars in the state budget. And it will create jobs and economic opportunity. So along with social justice, that's a pretty good winning combination, I think.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: And talk to us a little bit about voter turnout. I know that most of the state is doing mail-in balloting. How has that been going, and how is the counting of those ballots been going because I believe that's already started?

PHIL MURPHY: It has started. It's going really well. I'm knocking on wood here, but it's going really well. Everybody-- you're absolutely right. It's-- we call it a hybrid model because you get lots of different choices in terms of how you actually end up voting. Everybody got mailed a ballot. You could mail it back in. You could drop it in one of almost 300 secure lock boxes around the state. That's what our family did. You could hand it to your county clerk. You could hand it to a poll worker next Tuesday, or if you don't like any of that, you could vote in person on a paper ballot.

We've already gotten-- I just got the 8:00 AM update. We've gotten 3,155,000 ballots in. That's 80% of the entire vote in 2016. My guess is we'll be at something like 3 and 1/2 million by the end of the day today. So far it's working really well. We indeed started counting last Saturday. Any leakage in terms of how that count is going, we raised the penalties to be quite severe. So thank God nobody crosses that line, and again so far so good.

BRIAN SOZZI: Governor, that the Trump administration is out here touting the 31% increase in GDP we just saw yesterday. You have had-- you had an extensive career in the private sector, having worked at Goldman Sachs for a while. Does the economy to you feel like it's growing 31%?

PHIL MURPHY: No. I mean, I'm glad we grew 31%. I guess that's annualized, right? I'm glad that happened, believe me. I'd rather have that than the opposite. But our economy nationally and in our state-- and we're not alone-- is desperate. And we desperately need the one absolute magic wand, if you will, silver bullet that we have within us right now is for Congress to pass a big stimulus bill and for the president to sign it.

I actually think he wants to do that, but the Republican leadership in the Senate is laying across the tracks. And I just don't get it. We're talking about people who are unemployed, small businesses that are crushed, restaurants that have been crushed, state and local budgets, allowing us by the way to keep delivering services and keep frontline workers employed. It makes complete sense, both sides of the aisle. It's really smart, frankly, if you're on the ballot next Tuesday to have done this. I for the life of me can't figure out why they haven't done it, and I plead that they actually do get it done, even if it's in the lame duck because we need it.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right. Governor Phil Murphy, we thank you for your time and best of luck there in New Jersey.

PHIL MURPHY: Thank you both for having me.