Gov. Phil Murphy does not plan to put in place a mask mandate similar to one that New York officials invoked Dec. 13.
But that does not mean he won’t.
“We keep every option on the table at the moment,” Murphy said during a weekly COVID-19 press briefing. “We think what we’ve got in place meets the moment. But all options stay on the table.”
The questions on the state’s face mask policy arose after New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the state would require that masks be worn indoors at all public spaces that do not require vaccination for entry as of Dec. 13.
New York Mandate
The requirement, with New York State confronting a spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, means that unless their employees check for proof of vaccination, offices, shops, restaurants and other businesses must demand that patrons be masked.
Those that do not comply could face civil and criminal penalties, including fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and local health departments are responsible for enforcement.
Murphy, a proponent of masking since early in the pandemic, reiterated that he believes the donning of the mask is essential in attempting to control the spread of the coronavirus.
“I think it is very straight forward as we see the numbers continue to rise, three words,” said Murphy. “Vaccination. Booster. Masks. Get vaccinated, get boosted and keep a mask on when in a crowd of people whose vaccination status you do not know.”
When asked about a vaccine passport like that in New York, Murphy reiterated that he is open to the idea but still has reservations.
Open to Passport
“I have not changed my mind,” said the governor. “The definition of being fully vaccinated is going to change so that is something that is important to consider.”
Murphy pointed out that the only place that a face mask mandate is currently in effect in in schools due to younger kids only recently becoming eligible for the vaccine. He continued to be in favor of the policy as a way to stem learning loss that was prevalent during a year of remote learning.
School Masks Staying
“We want to keeps kids in school and we know it works,” said Murphy. “I think that would be irresponsible, kids would get sick and schools would shut down.”
Mask mandates were a major issue for Republicans who voted in the 2021 election. But Murphy noted a judge recently refused to block New Jersey’s mask mandate in schools. While U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty agreed the mask mandate may be a hardship and could have some educational disadvantages, he ruled the mandate was not in violation of the New Jersey State Constitution and a “rational” way to control the spread of COVID.
As of Dec. 13, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,131,424 with 2,968 total new PCR cases. There were 513 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 175,298. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,306,722.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 11 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 25,754. The state listed probable deaths at 2,835, bringing the overall total to 28,589. State officials noted 14 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Dec. 13, Bergen had a total of 256 new confirmed cases and 59 new probable cases, Essex 267 new cases and 27 new probable case, Hudson 170 new cases and five new probable cases, Morris 194 new confirmed cases and 49 new probable cases, Passaic 178 new cases and 41 new probable cases, Sussex 97 new cases and 16 new probable cases, and Warren 62 new cases and two new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,874, followed by Bergen at 2,729, Hudson with 2,190, Passaic at 1,845, Morris at 1,061, Sussex at 287, and Warren County at 241.
In regards to probable deaths reported Dec. 13, Bergen has 312, Essex has 310, Morris has 267, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 207, Sussex has 73 and Warren has 26.
As for the rate of transmission reported Dec. 13, it remained at 1.41 for the fourth straight day. The daily rate of infections from those tested Dec. 9 was 8.0%; by region, the rate was 7.5% in the North, 8.5% in the Central region and 8.4% in the South.
The state reported 1,650 patients were hospitalized at 70 of the state’s 71 hospitals that reported. By region, there were 633 in the North, 529 in the Central and 488 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 316 are in intensive care units (the first over 300 since May) and 130 on ventilators. A total of 163 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.
According to the state dashboard, new student cases totaled 4,998 and new staff cases 1,168 in the last week as of Dec. 5. Cumulatively, 38,044 cases have been reported— 31,068 students and 6,976 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 80.5% overall. In North Jersey counties, Bergen was tops at 90.8%, followed by Sussex at 86.1%, Warren at 86.0%, Passaic at 86.0%, Morris at 84.3%, Essex at 82.5%, and Hudson at 79.0%, the third lowest county in the state.
In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions as of Dec. 8, the state has tracked 248 school outbreaks and 1,345 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 31 outbreaks and 173 cases from the week previous.
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 in the new report, Passaic County has 10 confirmed outbreak with 108 cases, Bergen County has 24 confirmed outbreak with 97 cases, Morris County has 15 confirmed outbreaks with 88 cases, Sussex has 17 confirmed outbreak with 66 cases, Essex County has 13 confirmed outbreak with 56 cases, Hudson County has 12 confirmed outbreaks with 44 cases and Warren County has one confirmed outbreak with four cases..
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 160 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,351 of the cases, broken down between 681 residents and 670 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,927 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 34,396 residents and 23,622 staff, for a total of 58,018.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,735 on Dec. 13. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,034 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 12,658,734 in-state, plus an additional 513,426 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,172,160 as of Dec. 13.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,092,651 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 229,944 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,322,595. A total of 7,127,428 have received at least their first dose, or 84% of those eligible.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 889,015 for Pfizer and 764,541 for Moderna. A total of 37,089 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 1,690,645 have received a booster or third shot, or a total of 36% of those eligible.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 670,006 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 537,164, Hudson 479,064, Morris 361,814, Passaic 328,162, Sussex 87,103, and Warren 56,768.
It’s truly irresponsible for Gov. Murphy to NOT impose a mask mandate for all indoor spaces at this point. With Omicron evading much of the one or two-dose protections, and its greater transmissibility, we cannot afford to play around with a wait and see attitude. He needs to do as Gov. Hochul has done, and show leadership.