New Jersey

Newark Orders Indoor Masking Amid State Efforts to Curb Infections at 11-Month High

Newark's new mask order applies to all residents and visitors within the city, and goes into effect Monday

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New Jersey's largest city implemented a new mask order on the same day state infections neared an 11-month high for a fifth day in a row.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka signed an executive order on Monday mandating indoor masking at all public facilities, effective immediately. Establishments that serve food and drink must require mask use when patrons are not actively eating and drinking, the announcement said.

“We are still in the midst of a pandemic and need to take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard and best ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our residents,” said Mayor Baraka.

The new mandate could be the first of many more steps to curb the spread of the virus, the mayor warned, if the city's positivity rate reaches higher than 15% over a 3-day period. As of Dec. 14, the 3-day average was just below 12%.

New Jersey reported daily infections well over 6,000 for a fifth day in a row, keeping the number of positive cases at an 11-month high and the state on the verge of breaking its record for most cases in a single day.

In an effort to arm its residents amid the new omicron variant wave, New Jersey partnered with a new testing provider to offer free at-home test kits to be sent through the mail.

The state's health department is working with Vault Medical Services to send out COVID-19 saliva tests. All residents are eligible to request a test to be sent out for next-day delivery, and results are promised within 48 hours after the tests are received by a lab.

“With cases rising and holiday gatherings and travel, you want to protect yourself, especially if you are not feeling well or believe you may have been exposed, even if you don’t have any symptoms,” said Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli.

Gov. Phil Murphy has stressed in recent briefings the need to increase vaccinations and booster shots to shore up defenses against the surge in positive cases. At his reported final COVID briefing of the year on Monday, he shared the number of New Jerseyeans to complete their vaccination series has climbed to 6.2 million, or 73% of the eligible population.

The number of daily infections reported Monday dropped slightly, to 6,505, down a couple dozen from the second-highest total reported the day before.

Hospitalizations are on the rise too, up 15% in a week to levels last recorded in April.

On the latest day for which data was available, the state said about one in every eight COVID tests statewide came back positive -- again, back to April levels.

"This pandemic, and I say this with the heaviest of hearts, is going to get worse before it gets better," Murphy has said. "My fear is we're going to get back to capacity limits in some form or another."

Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said Monday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron's share of infections in only one week.

In much of the country, omicron's prevalence is even higher. It's responsible for an estimated 90 percent of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest.

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