Is a full reopening in jeopardy?

With Gov. Phil Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli sounding alarm bells over a drop in COVID-19 vaccine demand, is the state still on track for a full reopening on May 19? Murphy gave no indication he will pull back on plans to lift most remaining pandemic restrictions, and even predicted Metlife stadium would be at full capacity when the NFL season kicks off in September. However, what once seemed like a surety is now in doubt: vaccinating 70% of the adult population.

New Jersey is following a national trend showing fewer people showing up to be inoculated. The latest poll shows New Jersey has enough residents willing to get the shot to reach the 70% threshold, but just barely.

There were some mixed messages from the governor and health commissioner during Monday's briefing. Persichilli and Murphy both said they were alarmed at the drop in demand for vaccinations. Murphy even said he was willing to "bribe" individuals with cash in exchange for inoculation.

Persichilli warned New Jersey would need to administer 280,000 first doses per week this month and another 220,00 per week next month to hit the state's 70% goal. But Murphy also characterized the vaccine campaign as going well and the state would move forward with reopening plans.

There is reason to be concerned. Murphy has paused or backtracked on reopening plans at least twice before. Most notably was last summer when four days before indoor dining was due to resume, he extended the ban. Many restaurants had already ordered supplies they needed for reopening. Murphy tweeted at the time, "We've always said that we would not hesitate to hit pause if needed to safeguard public health. This is one of those times." Murphy also paused the easing of restrictions in March. In each instance, COVID cases were surging.

New Jersey is not seeing the kind of surge and spike in hospitalizations we saw in July of 2020 and last March. The rate of transmission (r/t) has been increasing over the last week, from .27 on May 5 to .94 today. However, a surge in new cases is not being seen and hospitalizations continue to drop. When Murphy announced the "pause" in reopening in March, the state's spot positivity had spiked to 8.48%. As of Monday, it was 3.55%

Murphy has long said the key to a full reopening and a normal summer was reaching the vaccination goal of 70% of the eligible adult population. He says he is willing to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. He says "everything is on the table." About  7.65 million doses of vaccine have been distributed since December in New Jersey, with 3.63 million people considered fully vaccinated.

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