When lawmakers reconvene in Trenton next week, they will face the same COVID-19 vaccine or testing requirements that teachers, state employees and healthcare workers are currently adhering to.
Despite objections from Republicans, the State Capitol Joint Management Commission voted 5-2 along party lines to mandate all persons who wish to enter the Legislative State House, State House Annex and/or Legislative Staff Building on committee days, voting sessions, quorum calls, and for any other meetings or gatherings be vaccinated ot subject to testing.
The new protocols require all entering the buildings must show ID and proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test conducted within the previous 72 hours. The policy would apply to elected lawmakers voting in person, all legislative staff members, reporters covering events, and anyone visiting the Statehouse, including those who want to speak at a hearing or protest a bill inside the building.
Legislative employees who have previously provided their employer with proof of full vaccination will not be required to provide additional proof of vaccination. If any member of the Legislature is found to be in non-compliance with this policy, the presiding officer of that member’s house will be notified and will determine whether to admit the member and under what conditions or accommodations admission will be permitted.
The commission is made up of four people appointed by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration, as well as one member each appointed by the Senate and Assembly Democratic and Republican caucuses.
GOP lawmakers objected to the new measure to fight the spread of the coronavirus, arguing on a number of fronts that it would disrupt the work of legislators and severely limit access to the capitol complex for the public.
Limiting Public Comment
The Senate Republicans letter stated “Quite simply, the policy…will exclude the large segment of New Jersey society that is unvaccinated from the legislative process in a manner that could be perceived as deliberate.”
“We are deeply concerned that this policy…will prevent public participation in the legislative process,” a letter published before the meeting stated. “For example, committee agendas often are not issued in a timely manner which could make it impossible for unvaccinated individuals to comply with the testing alternative to…testify at public hearings, as is their right.”
The lawmakers noted modified agendas are frequently done at the last minute and the coronavirus health protocols “would impact the ability of the public to participate in the legislative process (and) given lengthy COVID-19 testing timelines, the testing requirement for unvaccinated individuals is exclusionary.”
Lawmakers Barred from Building?
For its caucus, the GOP leaders raised the issue that the policy could exclude some members “constitutional rights” to participate unimpeded in legislative proceedings.
“If a member declines to comply, the policy states, vaguely, that the presiding officer of the member’s house will be notified of non-compliance and ‘determine whether to admit the member and under what conditions or accommodations admission will be permitted’.”
The Republicans questioned “What criteria will be used in any such determination of admittance or accommodation? Under what authority may the Senate President or Assembly Speaker prevent a duly elected legislator from entering the State House or participating in legislative proceedings on behalf of their constituents? We believe no such authority exists.”
Overruling GOP Protocols
The pushback from lawmakers additionally centers around their own work rules. With regards to legislative staff in the Senate Republican Office, the policy approved by the commission supersedes existing return-to-work policy, which is more flexible than those adopted by the Office of Legislative Services and the other partisan offices for their employees.
“By design, our policy provides staff a variety of choices to ensure a safe work environment, including options for vaccination, testing, and accommodations for those with natural immunity due to prior COVID-19 infection or other concerns (that others do not),” they wrote.
Besides vaccines and testing, the commission will require masks be worn by everyone in the State Capitol Complex in public areas. For Senate and Assembly galleries, capacity will be limited to 1/3 of the seats and every other chair in committee shall not be used.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 12,279,019 in-state, plus an additional 467,895 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 12,746,914 as of Oct. 26. Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,824,325 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 201,534 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,025,859.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 329,100 for Pfizer and 80,200 for Moderna. A total of 1,022 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,370,418 doses (645,515 fully vaccinated), Essex 1,059,716 doses (504,170), Hudson 950,211 doses (455,259), Morris 743,754 doses (348,301), Passaic 658,302 doses (314,267), Sussex 174,122 doses (84,036), and Warren 114,129 doses (54,695).
As of Oct. 26, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,036,496 with 1,211 total new PCR cases. There were 382 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 155,416. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,191,912.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 32 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 25,082. The state listed probable deaths at 2,814, bringing the overall total to 27,896. State officials noted 16 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Oct. 25, Bergen had a total of 111 new confirmed cases and 40 new probable cases, Essex 104 new cases and 17 new probable case, Hudson 50 new cases and 15 new probable cases, Morris 53 new confirmed cases and 15 new probable cases, Passaic 76 new cases and 19 new probable cases, Sussex 32 new cases and seven new probable cases, and Warren 20 new cases and four new probable case.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,837, followed by Bergen at 2,682, Hudson with 2,164, Passaic at 1,804, Morris at 1,036, Sussex at 261, and Warren County at 227.
In regards to probable deaths reported Oct. 25, Essex has 310, Bergen has 309, Morris has 265, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 71 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,630,794 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Oct. 4, 36,616 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 794 COVID-related hospitalizations and 215 COVID-related deaths. All those are less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 3, breakthroughs accounted for 17.4% of all new cases (2,352 of 13,507), 2.0% of new hospilizations (17 of 834), and two of the 98 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Oct. 25, it increased to 0.83 from 0.82 the previous day. The daily rate of infections from those tested Oct. 20 was 3.4%; by region, the rate was 2.8% in the North, 4.4% in the Central region and 4.8% in the South.
The state reported 812 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 230 in the North, 249 in the Central and 333 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 212 are in intensive care units and 118 on ventilators. A total of 44 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
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.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions as of Oct. 19, the state has tracked 126 school outbreaks and 658 cases in 105 school districts linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 30 outbreaks and 137 cases from the week previous. According to state officials, the cases account for 564 students and 94 teachers across 19 counties.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey as of Oct. 19, Passaic County has five confirmed outbreak with 72 cases, Sussex has 11 confirmed outbreak with 45 cases, Bergen County has nine confirmed outbreak with 45 cases, Morris County has six confirmed outbreaks with 27 cases, Essex County has five confirmed outbreak with 20 cases and Hudson County has four confirmed outbreaks with 16 cases. No outbreaks were reported in Warren County.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 161 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,374 of the cases, broken down between 723 residents and 651 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,793 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 33,972 residents and 23,250 staff, for a total of 57,222.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,614 on Oct. 26. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,000 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.