Gov. Phil Murphy and Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli stopped short of reinstating mandates for New Jerseyans on the heels of updated CDC guidance, but in a joint statement “strongly recommended” the use of masks in certain “increased risk,” indoor settings.
The declaration comes as the Garden State announced over 1,000 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in one day since May 8.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention July 27 revised its previous guidance in light of the spreading Delta coronavirus variant and urged both unvaccinated and “fully vaccinated individuals to wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.” CDC’s website provides a county-by-county breakdown and four northern New Jersey counties—Bergen, Essex, Union, and Somerset—were classified as areas of “substantial” transmission.
Murphy and his health commissioner on July 28 followed up on CDC’s updated guidance. In a joint statement, they said they now strongly recommend that both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals wear masks in:
- crowded indoor settings;
- “indoor settings involving activities with close contact with others who may not be fully vaccinated;”
- indoor settings where the vaccine status of other individuals is unknown; and
- settings where an individual is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease.
‘Trending in the Wrong Direction’
“Our metrics are trending in the wrong direction, and new data suggests the Delta variant is more transmissible even among vaccinated individuals, which is why we are making this strong recommendation,” Murphy and Persichilli said in a July 28 statement.
They added that New Jersey’s COVID stats are not as bad as many other states.
“Should our numbers reach those levels, we reserve the right to take more drastic action, including a statewide mask mandate,” Murphy and Persichilli said.
“We have crushed this virus repeatedly like no other state in the nation, and we are proud to boast among the country’s highest vaccination rates,” they added. “But at this point, given where our metrics are now, we feel the best course of action is to strongly encourage every New Jerseyan, and every visitor to our state, to take personal responsibility and mask up indoors when prudent.”
Additionally, Murphy and Persichilli urged New Jersey residents to get vaccinated.
“The vaccines are proven safe and highly effective and are the surest way we can end this pandemic,” the officials said.
‘One Size May Not Fit All’
Murphy indicated earlier in the week that “one size may not fit all” in terms of coronavirus pandemic response. The governor ast his Monday press briefing that while he looks to CDC for guidance, “when they announced in early to mid-May they were going to lift the indoor masking mandate, we held onto that for another 15 days and I think prevented a fair amount of illness.”
The governor said that while he considers guidance from the federal level, “I also think you have to take into account the reality of what your state looks like, and a national recommendation may or may not be consistent with the facts on the ground.”
Additionally, Murphy underscored New Jersey’s high vaccination rate on SiriusXM Business Radio’s “Wharton Business Daily,” and acknowledged that residents do not have an appetite for returning to stricter COVID protocols.
“We’ve got millions of people who have done the right thing, from moment one in this pandemic, whether it’s getting tested, masking, now getting vaccinated,” the governor said. The Delta variant poses “a big risk” to the economy, “but also health protocols throw a curve ball into the recovery. There’s just no question about it.”
“Again, if we have to do it to save lives, we’re going to do it. Public health creates economic health, not the other way around. But there’s rightful concern and rightful frustration,” Murphy said.
Back to School
CDC additionally recommended that everyone in K-12 schools wear masks indoors, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
Murphy and his health commissioner’s July 28 joint statement was silent on masks in schools. Earlier in the week, Murphy remained steadfast in saying that New Jersey schools will be back in session, full-time, for in-person learning this fall, “as close to normal as we can be.”
“These are our health protocol recommendations, but if you in a local district have a certain reality that’s inconsistent with the reality elsewhere you have the right to be stricter than that,” Murphy said.
The governor qualified his statement: “We”ll try to stay out ahead of this as best we can. We’ll make our decisions based on the facts, but we reserve the right, we have to, to tweak the guidance.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 10,430,884 in-state, plus an additional 377,425 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 10,808,309 as of July 29. Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,113,260 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 163,319 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 5,276,579.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,182,644 doses (581,475 fully vaccinated), Essex 882,025 doses (427,446), Hudson 809,361 doses (389,263), Morris 649,868 doses (318,3656), Passaic 547,016 doses (265,507), Sussex 151,427 doses (75,162), and Warren 97,890 doses (48,202).
As of July 29, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 905,428 with 1,017 total new PCR cases reported. There were 391 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 131,624. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,037,052.
As for those that have passed, the state reported three confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 23,871. The state listed probable deaths at 2,719, bringing the overall total to 26,590. State officials noted four deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on July 29, Bergen had a total of 97 new confirmed cases and 49 new probable cases, Essex 95 new cases and 28 new probable case, Hudson 60 new cases and 26 new probable cases, Morris 40 new confirmed cases and 28 new probable cases, Passaic 44 new cases and 17 new probable case, Sussex 12 new cases and seven new probable cases, and Warren seven new cases and no new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,735, followed by Bergen at 2,596, Hudson with 2,097, Passaic at 1,746, Morris at 983, Sussex at 241, and Warren County at 214.
In regards to probable deaths reported July 26, Essex has 305, Bergen has 303, Morris has 260, Hudson has 218, Passaic has 203, Sussex has 68 and Warren has 26.
Of the 4,758,520 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of July 12, 5,678 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 144 COVID-related hospitalizations and 49 COVID-related deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported July 29, it decreased to 1.50 from 1.51 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested July 24 was 4.7%; by region, the rate was 4.0% in the North, 5.6% in the Central region and 4.6% in the South.
Officials reported 480 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 215 in the North, 153 in the Central and 112 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 72 are in intensive care units and 35 on ventilators. A total of 62 patients were discharged.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, intensive care units, ventilators and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 36 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 158 of the cases, broken down between 94 residents and 64 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,517 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 32,873 residents and 22,276 staff, for a total of 55,149.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,063 on July 29. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,878 residents deaths and 144 staff deaths.