New Jersey’s rules on masking and other restrictions will remain in place — at least for now — as Gov. Phil Murphy administration reviews updated federal guidance released Thursday saying Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now safely go without wearing masks and practicing social distancing indoors and outdoors most places.
“Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Health are reviewing the new CDC guidance on masking requirements,” Murphy spokeswoman Alexandra Altman said in a statement. “We continue to move forward in our efforts to vaccinate all willing and eligible individuals who live, work, or study in New Jersey.”
The statement came a little more than an hour after the federal Centers for Disease Control announced the new guidance.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
The new recommendations still call for fully vaccinated Americans to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons, and homeless shelters. Plus, people who are immune-compromised are encouraged to speak with doctors before dropping masks.
Officials also noted that some business settings may still require masks, especially since some workers may remain unvaccinated.
Walensky said those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.
The CDC’s recommendations are simply that — recommendations. It would still be up to New Jersey’s government to adopt them. Murphy’s administration has often followed the CDC’s guidance in the past.
New Jersey currently requires all people to wear masks indoors in public and outdoors in public when you can’t socially distance — rules that have been in place for more than a year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thursday’s news comes just days before New Jersey is set to take a number of large steps to ease coronavirus restrictions Wednesday, including ending outdoor gathering limits and removing fixed, percentage-based indoor capacity limits for restaurants, gyms, retail stores, churches, and more. But under Murphy’s order, those establishments must still keep patrons and parties 6 feet away from each other, and people will still be required to wear masks indoors.
It’s unclear how Thursday’s announcement will affect those moves.
Asked if there’s any decision on what the new guidance means for the upcoming changes, Murphy’s office said: “Not at this time.”
Murphy has said the 6-foot caveat is based on CDC recommendations and he’d be willing to change it if the agency alters its guidance.
Private businesses can also still require patrons to wear masks, despite the CDC’s new guidance.
Walensky, the CDC director, said the agency’s new guidelines are based in science, citing three studies that show vaccines work. That includes a study from Israel, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that found the vaccine was 97% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 and 86% effective against asymptomatic infection in more than 5,000 health care workers.
Murphy did say Thursday that New Jersey’s COVID-19 metrics are “going in the right direction” as vaccinations continue.
The state’s seven-day average for new confirmed positive COVID-19 tests has fallen to 869 — down 34% from a week ago and 69% from a month ago. That’s the lowest number since Oct. 17.
Meanwhile, there were 966 COVID-19 patients hospitalized across the state as of Wednesday night — the first time that number was below 1,000 since Oct. 26.
More than 3.57 million people who live, work, or study in the state have now been fully vaccinated against the virus at New Jersey sites, while another 164,121 residents have been vaccinated in other states.
The state has set a goal of having 70% of New Jersey’s adults vaccinated by the end of June. A little more than half of the state’s 6.9 million adults have now been fully vaccinated.
“We still have a ways to go, but the numbers are going in the right direction,” Murphy said during an interview Thursday afternoon on MSNBC. “And that allows us the confidence to say, ‘We can open this place up.’”
“How normal are we going to be this summer? I think it’s going to be pretty normal,” he added. “It probably won’t be entirely normal, but I think we’re gonna have a great summer in Jersey.”
Still, the state is seeking to ramp up vaccinations now that demand has decreased and many large municipalities — many with large minority populations — have vaccination rates under 40%.
Murphy said he will appear alongside actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg — a West Orange resident — during a vaccination drive at noon Friday in the parking lot of the ShopRite in East Orange. There will be no appointment necessary to get the vaccine at the site.
New Jersey, a state of 9.2 million residents, has reported 25,906 residents have died from complications related to COVID-19 — including 23,258 confirmed deaths and 2,648 fatalities considered probable. The state has the most coronavirus deaths per capita among American states, largely driven by the early days of the pandemic, when the virus spread rapidly through the region.
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