😷 Have you noticed more people wearing masks?

😷 Three viruses are making many sick in New Jersey

😷 Could NJ return to a universal mask mandate?

Are masks back in New Jersey?

A growing number of people seem to be wearing them in public. You have probably seen them in grocery stores, retail shops, airports and train stations.

Travel Mask Mandate
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

With three nasty viruses spreading in New Jersey, health officials are again recommending that people start wearing a mask again in public.

It's a far cry from the mask mandates and restrictions in 2020 when Gov. Phil Murphy begged people to refrain from loud talking and singing at the holiday table to avoid spreading COVID.

Outside of New York City, the Garden State is the only spot in the Northeast where respiratory illness activity is considered "high" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Beyond routine colds, communities across New Jersey are being hit by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the flu, and COVID-19.

According to Tina Tan, the state's epidemiologist in the Department of Health, the Garden State is seeing increases in activity for each of these viruses. RSV is impacting young kids in particular.

Masked Walmart employee
Masked Walmart employee (Walmart)

A new COVID variant

While COVID cases remain relatively low in New Jersey, there is rising concern about a new variant that has quickly become the dominant strain.

Known as JN.1, this mutation has its origins with the omicron strain of COVID that began circulating in late 2021.

COVID19 test for diagnosis new corona virus
sittithat tangwitthayaphum ThinkStock

Of greatest concern, according to the CDC, is this variant's spike protein mutation that appears to allow it to avoid vaccine protections more easily.

However, symptoms connected to the JN.1 strain do not appear to be any more serious than past mutations.

Will NJ mandate masks?

It seems unlikely.

The Department of Health notes on its website that "face masks are no longer required in most outdoor and indoor settings."

However, they do recommend "wearing a face mask whenever you have symptoms of COVID-19, tested positive, were recently exposed to someone with COVID-19, or live in a county with elevated or "high" COVID community levels."

Gov, Phil Murphy wears a mask at a daily coronavirus briefing
Gov, Phil Murphy wears a mask at a daily coronavirus briefing (Tariq Zehawi/The Record via AP, Pool)

According to the CDC COVID data tracker, no New Jersey counties are experiencing "high" transmission levels.

Hospitalizations for COVID remain "low" in every New Jersey county except Atlantic and Cape May. Those counties are listed as "moderate."

While Gov. Phil Murphy could impose a new mask mandate, the declared public health emergency that allowed such sweeping mandates has long since expired. Public sentiment is also squarely against the idea of universal masking.

What about masks in school?

This also seems unlikely.

Districts have been free to impose their own restrictions since Gov. Murphy lifted his statewide mandate in March, 2022.

When kids returned from Winter break this past January, a handful of districts did briefly require masking. Camden, Passaic and Newark schools were among the districts that had students and staff masking up for a couple of weeks.

Townsquare Media photo illustration
Townsquare Media photo illustration

As of now, no districts have announced a similar policy when students return to class in January.

Hospitals and doctors' offices?

Healthcare setting are the most common areas where masking is still required.

New Jersey's largest hospital group, RWJBarnabas Health requires all visitors to "wear an appropriate face mask" and maintain social distancing.

Hackensack Meridian Health is more vague, stating: "Everyone entering the hospital may receive a mask. Please continue to wear the mask unless instructed to remove it."

Google maps/Townsquare Media illustration
Google maps/Townsquare Media illustration

Capital Health states that masking is no longer requires at its' facilities, however, "Care providers and patients in direct patient care settings must wear masks throughout the interaction when receiving care."

Can a business require customers wear a mask?

They sure can.

While not many are requiring customers to mask-up in New Jersey, it still remains each business owners right to set his/her policy regarding masks.

The New Jersey Department of Health directs, "businesses may continue to require face coverings for employees, customers, and guests."

Face Coverings In UK Shops Becomes Mandatory
Getty Images

In addition, businesses cannot "restrict the use of face masks by their staff, customers, or visitors."

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