TRENTON — State lawmakers from both parties say the Murphy administration is taking too long to reopen nonessential segments of the economy that have been ordered closed since mid-March due to the novel coronavirus.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said it doesn’t make sense that people can go to a grocery store, pharmacy or liquor store but not a card shop or clothing store – particularly since major retailers are open but mom-and-pop businesses aren’t.

With falling infection rates, Sweeney said businesses that can operate safely under Centers for Disease Control and Protection guidelines have to be reopened.

“We’re going to have so many businesses that are not going to come back because we are going to open too slowly,” Sweeney said.

Gov. Phil Murphy responded on Twitter: “My big fear is that people will die needlessly because politicians are rushing a reopening contrary to public health guidance and data.”

Sweeney is hardly alone in his sentiment and an increasing willingness to voice it publicly. The shutdowns were the main topic in a Tuesday night virtual town forum hosted by Ramapo College’s Sabrin Center for Free Enterprise, with lawmakers from across the political spectrum expressing similar concerns.

State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said people are now more anxious about the economy than the health situation and need the state to commit to dates and deadlines, with caveats that things might have to be closed again if infection rates begin to mount.

“I’m not asking them to lie to people. I’m asking them to be more truthful with people and give people at least a little bit of hope,” O’Scanlon said of the administration.

O’Scanlon said every day the state waits, a line is crossed where hundreds of businesses won’t survive.

“As we have this what I see as an untenable, irrational, nonsensical slow roll of reopening, we are not picking winners and losers. We are picking survivors and businesses and industries that we’re killing,” he said.

State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, said social distancing successfully flattened the curve of infections but that it’s past time to give some clarity about when more things can open, such as outdoor dining.

“When we’re talking about folks and their livelihood is at stake here, we’ve got to give them some hope, some comfort that there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Gopal said.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said the closings were widely accepted as appropriate for the first month or more but that now, in their third month, it’s time for a more detailed blueprint for reopening.

“There is a lot of inequity, and we need to bring more rational thought behind what we’re opening up, giving people enough advance notice to prepare whatever they have to prepare in terms of bringing back a workforce or preparing their facility to operate safely,” Weinberg said.

State Sen. Mike Doherty, R-Warren, said the 10,747 lab-confirmed deaths resulting from COVID-19 amount to just over one-tenth of the state’s population.

“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people are alive, and we’re destroying our world? When 99.9% of the people are alive?” Doherty said. “What is going on? This is insane, and it needs to end.”

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