Judge sides with GOP lawmaker, Murphy administration must hand over Covid data used to justify state shutdowns by June 11
TRENTON, N.J. – In a victory for greater transparency and in pursuit of the truth, Assemblyman Erik Peterson was granted access to the N.J. Department of Health N.J. Department of Health’s county-level Covid-19 data by state Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson Tuesday. The state has until June 11 to turn over the information that determines the Covid-19 activity level index or CALI score, which has been used by Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration to justify shutdowns and restrictions on businesses, schools, nursing homes and services for those with developmental disabilities.
“This is a win for the people of New Jersey who have suffered under Murphy’s draconian government lockdowns,” said Peterson (R-Hunterdon). “The Murphy administration has fought tooth and nail to prevent the release of their coronavirus-related data because they are afraid of the truth. I, an elected member of the Legislature sitting on the Health Committee, was forced to sue the governor’s administration for records that an honest person would have put on the internet for all New Jersey residents to have access. With this judgement, we are lifting up the Murphy curtain of secrecy to reveal what I believe has been decisions based on political science and not health science. If there was such convincing data and science behind the governor’s decisions, he would have readily released them to the public.”
Peterson received no response to his direct request to the administration and was forced to file an open records request submitted to the Health Department on Jan. 14. In his request, Peterson stated he is looking to ascertain how or why a county was assigned a particular region and why the data that determines whether a school or business is open is not reported by county. On Feb. 23, when the Murphy administration failed to voluntarily produce the requested information, Peterson brought legal action against the governor’s administration to demand the records.
“The CALI score has been used as a weapon by this administration to deprive our children of an education and to shut down businesses. The governor has been abusing the health emergency powers for political purposes and he must be held accountable,” said Peterson. “I think we will find that the health risk they claimed was a grave threat was purposely exaggerated, or was manipulated to scare people into giving up their constitutional rights. By making the health threat of Covid look worse than it really was, the governor could continue unilaterally controlling our lives. His overly restrictive mandates irreparably harmed the lives of innocent school children, entrepreneurs and the state’s most vulnerable populations. He should be held personally liable for the damages he caused.”
The state’s CALI scores reflect new Covid cases, emergency room visits with Covid-like symptoms and positivity rates. The Health Department assigns scores from low to very high for six regions comprising the state’s 21 counties. Scores were calculated on a weekly basis at the beginning of the pandemic and then switched to every other week more recently.
“Businesses have been subjected to arbitrary capacity restrictions, because the data supposedly indicated a very high rate of Covid-19 infections in certain areas. It’s time someone outside of the governor’s inner circle gets a look at that data,” Peterson said.
Under the state’s guidelines, schools in counties with very high CALI scores were instructed to switch to all-remote learning. State health officials also used the scores, in part, to deny in-person visitations at long-term care facilities. Additionally, people with disabilities were banned from attending important day programs that offer therapy, socialization and training services, because the regions in which they are located never reached a ‘safe’ CALI score.
“The Murphy administration is inept and it’s time we reveal the truth,” Peterson concluded.