State Republicans believe that Gov. Phil Murphy should have gone further and moved quicker than March 7 when it comes to ending the school mask mandate.
North Jersey GOP lawmakers asserted the ultimate decision should not be made by the government but by parents; the emergency powers the governor has used should end; the governor was picking an arbitrary date based more on politics than science; and was a result of a new State Senate campaign.
“Gov. Murphy has ruled through emergency powers for far too long, and he’s taken away parents’ rights over all of their objections. He should give it all back now,” said State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25).
Ending School Mask Mandate
The mandate has been effective since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, requiring students, staff and visitors to wear a face covering. Murphy in his announcement Feb. 7 said the move and the timeline was being made due to key health metrics continuing to move to better places after a Winter surge.
“Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate,” said Murphy. “Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids.”
But the month long delay did not satisfy members of the 40th Legislative District. Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips is questioning why the action can not be done immediately.
“March 7th is an arbitrary date that doesn’t have scientific backing,” said DePhillips (R-40). “Why not end the mandate and all of the issues that go along with it today? What is the rationale behind a one-month delay?”
State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-40) argued any decision for masking should be made by families and not the government.
“Parents want their rights to make masking decisions for their kids restored today, not next month,” said Corrado. “Gov. Murphy should ‘Give It Back’ now. There’s no excuse to wait any longer.”
Emergency Power Extension
Lawmakers further expressed their dismay that Murphy extended the Public Health Emergency another 30 days. The governor said the extension was needed in order to allow the state to continue vaccine distribution, vaccination or testing requirements in certain settings, the collection of COVID-19 data, and other critical components of the state’s COVID-19 response.
It was not an argument that Bucco was buying, stating Murphy has governed through executive action throughout the pandemic.
“By every metric, New Jersey’s COVID numbers have plummeted to the point that overbearing mandates and executive orders are completely unnecessary,” said the Morris County lawmaker. “Gov. Murphy should let the Public Health Emergency expire this week and give back the emergency powers and parental rights he has taken from New Jerseyans. There’s no justification to drag this on for another month while children continue to suffer both educationally and emotionally.”
DePhillips added “The legislature should have more input into decision making, because every legislator is more in tune to the concerns of the districts, teachers, parents and students we represent than any other state official. This never should have been a decision by one person, because in our democracy the legislature is a co-equal branch.”
Failed Mask Policy
Assembly members from the 39th, Robert Auth and DeAnne DeFuccio, commented the decision by Murphy is a continuation of a failed mask policy that has “done more harm than good.”
“Gov. Murphy has finally decided to take the muzzle off our children, but he should have never had that type of power in the first place,” said Auth. “His pandemic policies have been illogical and harmful, especially to schoolchildren who have needlessly suffered learning loss and endured mental health struggles.”
DeFuccio was dismayed that the New Jersey Department of Health did not have updated guidance for schools regarding social distancing or quarantining timelines when Murphy made the announcement.
“Details are important to parents, but Gov. Murphy has seemingly left those out …just as he has done to guardians and lawmakers during the state’s entire two-year pandemic response,” said the Assemblywoman. “While I think we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that our innocent children will return to some sense of normalcy, the governor’s unilateral decisions will continue to have long-lasting consequences.”
Give it Back
State Senate Minority Leader Steven Oroho proclaimed the ending of the school mask mandate marks the first victory for the Give it Back campaign Senate Republicans announced late last week.
“Gov. Murphy will never admit that the pressure is getting to him, but it absolutely is,” said Oroho (R-24). “That’s why he rushed to make this announcement weeks before he actually plans on lifting the school mask mandate. It’s our first ‘Give It Back’ victory.”
The campaign is focused on such issues as taxes, emergency powers, parental rights, vaccine choice, economic freedom, and safe streets Republicans say Murphy has taken from residents that he must give back.
“‘Give It Back’ is a powerful message that New Jerseyans can rally around to force Gov. Murphy to give back everything he has taken from them over the past two years,” added the Sussex County lawmaker. “We forced him to give back parental rights, now we need to keep the pressure on to get him to give back everything else.”
The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey as of Feb. 10 was 1,849,171 with 2,654 total new PCR cases. There were 697 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 290,323. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,139,494.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 81 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 29,323. The state listed probable deaths at 2,937, bringing the overall total to 32,260. State officials noted 26 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Feb. 10, Bergen had a total of 323 new confirmed cases and 101 new probable cases, Essex 259 new cases and 24 new probable case, Hudson 308 new cases and 22 new probable cases, Morris 143 new confirmed cases and 22 new probable cases, Passaic 164 new cases and 23 new probable cases, Sussex 50 new cases and one new probable case, and Warren 20 new cases and seven new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,209, followed by Bergen at 3,038, Hudson with 2,446, Passaic at 2,081, Morris at 1,204, Sussex at 361, and Warren County at 303.
In regards to probable deaths reported Feb. 7, Bergen has 321, Essex has 310, Morris has 284, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 203, Sussex has 82 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported Feb. 10, it remained at 0.51 from 0.54 a day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Feb. 5 was 9.5%; by region, the rate was 8.6% in the North, 9.3% in the Central region and 12.2% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 1,708 patients hospitalized as all 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Feb. 10. By region, there were 673 in the North, 580 in the Central and 455 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 327 are in intensive care units and 212 on ventilators. A total of 264 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 549 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 26,748 of the cases, broken down between 12,349 residents and 14,399 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,357 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 46,177 residents and 37,538 staff, for a total of 83,834.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 9,127 on Feb. 10. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,461 residents deaths and 149 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,551,880 in-state, plus an additional 553,178 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,105,058 as of Feb. 10.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,449,030 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 221,538 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,670,568. With just under 8.5 million eligible in New Jersey to be vaccinated, 77% are fully vaccinated and 91% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,532,888 for Pfizer and 1,274,295 for Moderna. A total of 61,247 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,868,430 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 51% of the 5.6 million of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 708,003 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 573,627, Hudson 513,934, Morris 379,855, Passaic 348,939, Sussex 91,061, and Warren 59,195.
According to the state dashboard with 63.6% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 6,457 and new staff cases 1,536 in the last week as of Jan. 30. Cumulatively, 130,820 cases have been reported— 102,237 students and 28,583 staffers.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Feb. 8, the state has tracked 484 school outbreaks and 3,255 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 19 outbreaks and 117 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 55 confirmed outbreaks with 304 cases, Morris County has 40 confirmed outbreaks with 241 cases, Essex County has 31 confirmed outbreaks with 225 cases, Passaic County has 22 confirmed outbreaks with 188 cases, Sussex has 34 confirmed outbreaks with 183 cases, Hudson County has 19 confirmed outbreaks with 92 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 15 cases.