Will Murphy reinstate NJ’s mask mandate?
Governor Phil Murphy has already warned going maskless could be a temporary thing. As he updates New Jersey's COVID-19 metrics, many will be listening for clues on whether or not he is leaning toward reinstating some of the restrictions he lifted just a week ago. Current metrics have fallen to levels not seen since the earliest stages of the pandemic. However, there is a lag time of a few days, and we may not have a clear picture of the impact of a maskless Memorial Day Weekend until the end of this week. Murphy said last Friday, "The virus dictates the terms here not us." Speaking on CNBC, Murphy left open the possibility of making masks mandatory if COVID infection rates and hospitalizations spiked up, but gave no indication what the threshold would be. "Our strong hope is that we don't have to do that,” Murphy said. On Friday, all remaining indoor gathering limits are due to expire.
A rate of transmission (r/t) below 1.0 indicates the outbreak is not actively spreading. New Jersey's r/t is at 0.74. New Jersey is also one of only a handful of states that has seen a spot positivity rate on COVID testing hold below 3%. Murphy has frequently warned against "knucklehead behavior," and tweeted out new warnings ahead of the holiday weekend. “Lifting the mask mandate is not a license to be a knucklehead,” Murphy said. “Lifting the mask mandate is simply acknowledging how far we've come together and that, together, we'll cross the finish line." He then warned: “This pandemic is not over.”
Concerning to Murphy and state health officials is a steep drop in demand for COVID vaccinations. Just a few weeks ago, it was difficult to get an appointment for a vaccination. When the state reported the daily numbers, they were increasing by the tens of thousands. Now, daily numbers barely budge even though vaccinations are readily available with no appointment. 4,235,201 people have been fully vaccinated. 8,688,584 doses of vaccinate have been delivered. There are enough individuals who have received their first dose of vaccine to meet the goal of 4.7 million fully vaccinated people by the end of this month if they return for their second dose. New Jersey has been offering incentives like free beer and wine and state park passes to try and increase vaccinations rates, but medical experts say so-called "herd immunity" will not be achieved anytime soon.
With Murphy running for re-election in November, he is under added pressure to keep restrictions to a minimum. He has said he will allow the public health emergency declaration to expire this month, but only if the legislature extends his pandemic powers until the end of the year. Efforts to do that stalled in the Assembly as republican and democratic lawmakers bowed to a public outcry over the vague legislation. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin promised to revise the bills and bring them up for a vote, presumably with a more clear definition of under what circumstances Murphy could reinstate pandemic restrictions.