New Jersey

NJ Lifts Indoor COVID Restrictions, Lawmakers Pass Bill to End Public Health Emergency

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What to Know

  • New Jersey’s Democrat-led Legislature has passed a bill to end the public health emergency brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. The measure passed Thursday with Democrats in favor and Republicans against it.
  • The legislation ends most of the more than 100 executive orders that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy enacted to address the pandemic, but leaves about a dozen of them in place until January. The bill won’t go into effect until 30 days after its’ signed into law.
  • On Friday, New Jersey also removed indoor gathering restrictions as daily COVID-19 cases remain lower.

New Jersey is ditching it indoor gathering limit ahead of the weekend and soon giving Gov. Phil Murphy's COVID-19 emergency order the boot as well.

On June 4, the state lifted all indoor gathering limits, paving the way for 100% capacity at large concerts and sports events, weddings, birthday parties and other happenings.

Outdoor gathering limits and many other COVID measures have already been lifted. New Jersey also ditched its indoor mask mandate to come in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that fully vaccinated people can remove their masks indoors and outside in many public places. Some exceptions still apply and business, however, can set their own masking rules.

Another sign that COVID-19 is easing in the Garden State is the ending of the state's monthslong public health emergency.

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New Jersey's Democrat-led Legislature on Thursday passed a bill to end the public health emergency brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The measure, which passed with Democrats in favor and Republicans against, ends most of the more than 100 executive orders that the Democratic governor enacted to address the coronavirus pandemic, but leaves about a dozen of them in place until January. The bill won't go into effect until 30 days after its' signed into law.

Murphy, whose administration was involved in drafting the measure, said in a joint statement with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin that he will sign the legislation on Friday.

Thursday's vote came after Murphy and legislative leaders announced recently that they'd work to end the public health emergency that gave the governor extraordinary powers, including mandating masks and requiring social distancing.

The legislation leaves in place a moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs, among others. It also leaves in place an executive order that barred the garnishment of stimulus checks and extends certain rulemaking deadlines, among other directives from the governor.

The legislation also provides that the state's face mask and distancing requirements cannot be more restrictive than CDC guidance. It does, though, allow for more stringent requirements if the state's COVID-19 hospitalizations spike, the transmission rate rises above 1 or spot positivity increases substantially.

Republicans derided the legislation as window dressing, saying that it accomplishes nothing that couldn't have been done by the governor on his own since the power to end the public health emergency rests with him.

“The bill is completely useless,” Republican Assembly member Brian Bergen said during a debate on the Assembly floor.

They were buoyed by a boisterous crowd outside the statehouse building that at times chanted “kill the bill,” and hoisted signs criticizing Murphy over keeping a mandate for masks in schools in place for now. Some banners read: “Free the smiles unmask our kids,” and, “It's not about the virus. It's about control.” There were also banners and T-shirts reflecting the slogans of Republicans running in Tuesday's gubernatorial primary.

Amy Rozen, 51, of Rockaway, was among the crowd at the rally. She said she was a progressive Democrat, but wouldn't support Murphy this year because of what she cast as his mishandling of the outbreak. She also echoed GOP concerns that the measure moved too fast without giving people enough time to review it.

“They didn’t leave any time for public comments or even for the legislators even to understand. It’s been rammed through. The people of New Jersey are not going to stand for that,” she said.

Democratic Assembly member Nicholas Chiaravalloti, a sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, saying it sets timelines that aren't included in executive orders.

“What this bill does is provide a definitive end to the public health emergency," he said.

Murphy first signed an executive order declaring a public health emergency at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. He's renewed it every month since then until recently, when he said he planned to let it expire, but not without legislation that enshrined certain parts of his orders.

New Jersey has vaccinated nearly 4.3 million people. Murphy set a goal of inoculating 70% of the adult population, or 4.7 million people, by June 30.

Daily cases have stayed down in the hundreds, rather than thousands that were seen during the height of the pandemic.

The state, however, is still reporting deaths from coronavirus complications (a lagging indicator). Seven new deaths were reported Thursday to bring the confirmed total to 23,575.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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