New Jersey lifted its COVID travel advisory on Monday, and Gov. Phil Murphy said all schools will be open for full-time in-person learning this fall.
But Murphy also said the state will keep its indoor mask mandate in public places "for the time being," even as it withdraws its outdoor mask rule.
"We are going to be able to take off our masks indoors in the not-so-distant future, as more and more people complete their vaccination course," Murphy said. "We just can't yet because we need to know unequivocally that doing so will not lead to a backslide in our progress."
Murphy's decision leaves New Jersey as one of the few states explicitly not following the CDC's guidance, issued last week, that vaccinated people could take their masks off in most indoor settings.
It also stands in contrast to the imminent end of mask rules in New York and Connecticut, with which New Jersey has otherwise operated mostly in lockstep during the pandemic.
"While we have made tremendous progress, we are not out of the woods yet. The majority of New Jerseyans are still unvaccinated and we're not checking anyone's vaccine status at the door when you go to the supermarket or to a hardware store, for instance," Murphy said. "I don't know how we can expect workers to tell who is vaccinated from who isn't -- and it is unfair to put the burden on business owners and frontline employees to police every patron."
But the state did acknowledge some progress fighting the virus, saying Monday it would drop its travel advisory. With that change, visitors to New Jersey will no longer be required to quarantine.
Looking to the future, the governor also said the executive order allowing for remote education would expire at the end of this school year.
"All students will be back in school for full-time, in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year," the state said, adding that the option for full-time remote learning would be "removed."
The state later clarified that remote learning would remain a permitted option "in the event that there is a localized outbreak or other emergency," but that if schools are open for in-person learning, parents can not opt out.
While just a few weeks ago New Jersey had the highest per-capita case rate and death rate in the nation, the state's numbers have improved dramatically. Over the weekend it became the largest state in the country to hit a key threshold of 70 percent of adults being vaccinated.
The state's positivity rate last Thursday was down to 2.7 percent, the lowest in months, and the virus's rate of transmission was at long-term lows as well.