As new cases continue to decline and other key health metrics improve, Gov. Phil Murphy raised the prospect that the mask mandate for students and school personnel could end before June.
During an interview with WPIX Jan. 20, Murphy opened the door for no masks in classrooms as the rate of transmission was under 1.00 and the hospitalizations were below 5,000 for the first time since Jan. 3.
“Yes, I think there’s a real shot of that. I really do,” Murphy responded during the Thursday morning interview. “I don’t mean this calendar year. (We are) speaking about the school year that ends in June.”
The school mask mandate has been an area of disagreement between Murphy with Republicans and even members of his own party. A deal to extend the public health emergency powers fell apart when Murphy declared that the mask mandate would remain in effect for schools and day care centers just as the State Senate was to bring the legislation to a vote on Jan. 10. It’s an issue the GOP used to gain seats across the state during last year’s election.
Lawmakers at the Statehouse on both sides of the aisle were furious with Murphy’s statement that blindsided them and responded by not posting a resolution extending the governor’s pandemic-related emergency powers. Then State Senate President Steve Sweeney called the governor’s decision to make the mask mandate announcement “just disrespectful. We are an equal branch of government…I wasn’t consulted. It’s just aggravating.”
The Senate bill would have granted the governor the authority to address the emergency medical and healthcare needs of the COVID crisis. This proposed resolution authorized a 45-day extension of administrative orders, executive directives and guidance to address crisis conditions at New Jersey hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Murphy had asked for a 90-day extension and much broader powers.
Delay Caused by Surge
In the absence of agreement, Murphy extended the powers for 30 days on Jan. 12. The declaration allowed the state to continue vaccine distribution, vaccination or testing requirements in certain settings, the collection of COVID-19 data, implementation of any applicable recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent or limit the transmission of COVID-19, staffing and resource allocation, and other critical components of the state’s COVID-19 response.
While the governor’s remarks during the Jan. 20 interview opens the door for this year, Murphy revealed earlier this month that before the surge spurred by the omicron variant he had hoped that a mask mandate would have been repealed.
“If you had asked me six weeks ago if I had some hope on Jan. 11 at midnight we might have been able to shift to a different reality…yeah, I did have that hope,” he stated. “(But) we can not change gears on this in the middle of this tsunami…we will not get there in the near term.”
As of Jan. 20, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 1,759,273 with 10,072 total new PCR cases. There were 2,508 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 278,417. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,037,690.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 161 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 27,593. The state listed probable deaths at 2,883, bringing the overall total to 30,476. State officials noted 88 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Jan. 20, Bergen had a total of 1,166 new confirmed cases and 280 new probable cases, Essex 705 new cases and 98 new probable case, Hudson 726 new cases and 137 new probable cases, Morris 645 new confirmed cases and 863 new probable cases, Passaic 716 new cases and 175 new probable cases, Sussex 158 new cases and 35 new probable cases, and Warren 140 new cases and 23 new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,038, followed by Bergen at 2,895, Hudson with 2,315, Passaic at 1,965, Morris at 1,135, Sussex at 331, and Warren County at 274.
In regards to probable deaths reported Jan. 18, Bergen has 314, Essex has 310, Morris has 274, Hudson has 275, Passaic has 205, Sussex has 75 and Warren has 27.
Of the 6,145,961 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Dec. 27, 2021, 128,172 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated (2.1%). Of those 1,687 have been hospitalized and 448 COVID-related deaths—less than 1% in each category.
In the week of Dec. 20-26, 2021, breakthroughs accounted for 31.0% of all new cases (31,334 of 101,000), 0.2% of new hospitalizations (4 of 2,640), and five of the 146 deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Jan. 20, it declined to 0.83 from 0.96 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Jan. 15 was 23.3%; by region, the rate was 21.8% in the North, 24.3% in the Central region and 26.5% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 4,966 patients hospitalized as 70 of the 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Jan. 20. By region, there were 2,033 in the North, 1,656 in the Central and 1,277 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 804 are in intensive care units and 530 on ventilators. A total of 773 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.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 559 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 22,635 of the cases, broken down between 10,123 residents and 12,512 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,348 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 43,932 residents and 35,532 staff, for a total of 79,464.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,890 on Jan. 20. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,284 residents deaths and 147 staff deaths.
According to the state dashboard with just 60% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 28,523 and new staff cases 8,646 in the last week as of Jan. 9. Cumulatively, 141,734 cases have been reported— 109,341 students and 32,393 staffers.
The vaccination rate for teachers in the Garden State is 83.9% overall. In North Jersey counties, Bergen was tops at 90.8%, followed by Warren at 90.3%, Morris at 86.8%, Sussex at 86.0%, Passaic at 85.1%, Essex at 83.1%, and Hudson at 69.8%, the lowest county in the state.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Jan. 18, the state has tracked 406 school outbreaks and 2,365 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 18 outbreaks and 110 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, Bergen County has 51 confirmed outbreaks with 274 cases, Morris County has 31 confirmed outbreaks with 197 cases, Passaic County has 20 confirmed outbreaks with 173 cases, Sussex has 29 confirmed outbreaks with 156 cases, Essex County has 24 confirmed outbreaks with 128 cases, Hudson County has 18 confirmed outbreaks with 89 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 12 cases.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,311,808 in-state, plus an additional 528,882 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 13,840,690 as of Jan. 20.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,323,968 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 213,569 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,537,537. A total of 75% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in New Jersey and 88% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,405,060 for Pfizer and 1,172,319 for Moderna. A total of 55,471 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,632,850 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 46% of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 694,841 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 559,857, Hudson 501,349, Morris 374,436, Passaic 340,053, Sussex 89,835, and Warren 58,330.