NJ ends masks, social distancing for most places Friday
Masks no longer will be required by executive order at indoor public places as of Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced, at which point restaurants and other businesses also would no longer need to follow strict social distancing among patrons.
This applies to people who are vaccinated or not, although Murphy asked non-vaccinated people to take responsibility and wear masks or maintain social distance.
The expected no-mask news was first floated late last week, after the governor had met with some mayors of Shore towns ahead of the Memorial Day weekend kickoff to the summer season.
Businesses could still require masks be worn indoors at their own discretion, under the executive order being signed in time for the holiday weekend.
Murphy noted that he has long targeted this Memorial Day as the date for which the state could more fully reopen amid the pandemic.
The rate of transmission (Rt) stood at 0.51 earlier Monday — anything above 1.0 had been considered troubling.
Heading into last Memorial Day weekend, the daily positivity or spot positivity rate was at 14% with just over 3,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized. A year ago, outdoor gatherings were limited to groups of 25 while indoor gatherings were at 10.
As of Monday, just 699 patients were being treated in hospitals for COVID and more than 4.8 million people in the state had received at least one vaccine dose.
That means the long-stated goal of having 4.7 million fully vaccinated people by the end of June has nearly been realized, based on second shot scheduling and the two-week followup period.
"I do not for one minute regret our taking these extra two weeks to ensure that the dramatic decreases that we have begun seeing in both cases and hospitalizations would continue," Murphy said at Monday's state briefing.
He continued "I do not regret listening to a host of medical and scientific experts," referring to the state as one of just two that did not immediately apply the CDC's updated mask guidance roughly 11 days earlier.
Schools and childcare settings, as well as summer camp programs would continue to follow existing pandemic protocols, which include mask wearing indoors, the governor said. Part of that reasoning was the fact that no COVID vaccine is OK'd for youth younger than 12.
Only Pfizer has been given FDA clearance for youth 12 and older, while Moderna and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine remain okayed for only adults 18 and older.
In announcing the rollback of both the indoor mask policy in public places and the 6 feet of distance between tables at restaurants and among groups of patrons at other businesses, Murphy said that becoming the first state in the nation to require masks in April 2020 was "unquestionably the right call."
A number of other exceptions to the mask mandate being lifted include healthcare settings and public transportation, which follows the updated CDC guidance, as well as indoor workplaces not open to the general public (like warehouses and factories), state agencies that interact with the public such as the MVC, correctional facilities and homeless shelters.
Last Friday, the governor visited a vaccine site at the Early Childhood Learning Center in Phillipsburg, which has among the lowest vaccination rates of any municipality.
A free, full season "Vax Pass" also was announced last week for the state's parks, a $50 value, for any resident who has received at least their first shot by July 4.
That includes individuals already vaccinated, who can begin registering online for the incentive starting on Thursday at a new website not yet live: nj.gov/vaxandvisit.
Out of the state’s 51 state parks, 18 require a parking or entrance fee, including Island Beach State Park and Cheesequake State Park.
The DEP also has said refunds would be given to residents who already purchased annual state park passes this year and have been fully vaccinated.