New Jersey

NJ to End Indoor Mask Mandate, Lift Capacity Limits; NYC Schools to Fully Reopen in Fall

New Jersey's indoor gathering limit requirements to also end June 4, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday

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What to Know

  • New Yorkers who get vaccinated this week at 10 state-run vaccine sites will receive a lottery ticket for a chance to win up to $5 million; The "vax and scratch" vaccine incentive comes as vaccination rates drop
  • Meanwhile, vaccinated people in New York and Connecticut shed their masks in most situations last week as most businesses went back to full occupancy. New Jersey could soon join them
  • NJ to lift the mask mandate Friday for fully vaccinated people

New Jersey announced the end to its indoor mask mandate and social distancing requirement for fully vaccinated individuals effective Friday.

New Jersey and Hawaii had been the only two states that didn't announce a timeline of when they will ease indoor mask-wearing at a time when the majority of states already either lifted the mandates or announced a date.

Like New York, the Garden State lifted its outdoor mask mandate last week but the difference in indoor mask rules have caused confusion and frustration for business owners who say they could lose out on customers who can just travel to New York if they want to be maskless.

As the indoor mask mandate and other restrictions are set to be lifted this Friday or shortly after, places like Monmouth County had no new cases reported on Saturday. NBC New York's Brian Thompson reports.

Murphy said that businesses will still maintain their right to request that masks be worn and social distancing be met if they so choose after the mask mandate lifts. However, businesses will not have the right to ask a patron to take their masks off if they enter their business with them on.

The end to indoor mask-wearing will not extend to:

  • healthcare settings and long-term care facilities
  • correctional facilities
  • homeless shelters
  • airplanes, bus, train, and other forms of public transit
  • public-facing state offices, such as Motor Vehicle Commission agencies,
  • child-care centers and facilities
  • youth summer camps
  • public and private preschool programs, elementary and secondary schools
  • worksites that are not open to the public, like manufacturing and warehousing facilities

Those who are not vaccinated should continue wearing their masks both indoors and outdoors, Murphy said. This may prove to be difficult to enforce given that there is no way to know who is vaccinated and who is not.

"Lifting the mask mandate is not a license to be a knucklehead," Murphy said, adding that although the numbers show the situation has improved in New Jersey, "I must caution: this pandemic is not over."

The decision to do away with the mask mandate comes as the state has seen a significant drop in COVID numbers in the past few weeks. Monmouth County, one of the most populous counties in the state, reported 41 towns with no new COVID cases on Saturday. That's about 80 percent of the communities there.

Additionally, on Monday, the governor announced that dance floors at bars and restaurants may also reopen Friday. The requirement that individuals be seated while ordering and eating/drinking will also end Friday. Meanwhile, indoor gathering limits, as well as outdoor venue capacity limits (including at MetLife Stadium), will be lifted June 4.

"We are thrilled by Governor Murphy’s announcement today to have MetLife Stadium operate at full capacity for the 2021 season. We can’t wait to welcome our fans back, creating the gameday atmosphere we have all been missing. We will continue to work to ensure the return of fans is accomplished in a safe and responsible way," the New York Giants and the New York Jets of the NFL, who both play at home at MetLife, said in a joint statement issued shortly after Murphy's announcement.

In neighboring New York state, anyone who gets vaccinated at select state-run vaccination sites this week will receive a lottery scratch ticket with prizes potentially worth millions, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo tries to boost slowing vaccination rates.

The pilot program will offer prizes from $20 up to $5 million and run from Monday to Friday, May 28 at 10 state-run sites, Cuomo announced last week. Only residents 18 and older are eligible and there's a one in nine chance of winning a scratch ticket prize in New York, which is joining other states with similar lottery incentives.

Hoping to take advantage of the nicer weather and upcoming Memorial Day Weekend, the state will also be offering two-day passes to state parks (as well as beaches like Jones Beach on Long Island) for those who get vaccinated this week. The new incentives come as the pace of vaccinations has slowed: New York has recorded an average of 123,806 daily shots in arms over the past 14 days. That's down 43 percent from 216,040 as of April 12.

Also on Monday, seven new pop-up vaccination sites open at airports across New York state to reach more travelers who haven't gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. All sites are open for walk-in vaccinations on a first come, first served basis, Cuomo said. Click here for the list of vaccine sites.

As of Sunday, New York has fully vaccinated about 43.9% of its 20 million residents, above the national average of 39.3%.

COVID isn't over, Cuomo said Monday, "it's being managed by what we are doing and the tool that is managing it is vaccinations." The state, the governor said, is averaging less than 100,000 vaccines a day -- a drastic drop.

But even as vaccination rates slow, the recovery inches forward. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said on MSNBC Monday morning that all city schools would reopen full-time in September, with no remote option.

"You can't have a full recovery without full-strength schools, everyone back, sitting in those classrooms, kids learning again," De Blasio said in an MSNBC interview.

As of now, students will still need to wear masks and adhere to other CDC guidelines once the schools reopen to all students on Sept. 13, according to NYC Chancellor Meisha Porter. However, masks and other guidelines are subject to change. The state did change its mask policy regarding summer camps Monday, saying they are "encouraged" rather than required.

The governor said that he supported a full return to schools in the fall, adding at a late-morning press conference that he saw "no reason why every school [in the state] shouldn't be open in September." Cuomo added that a statewide school policy for return to in-person learning would come soon.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the largest labor union for the city's teachers, issued a statement following the NYC Schools announcement saying in part that "there is no substitute for in-person instruction," but there are still "concerns."

The tri-state is set to make its biggest reopening leap yet, with no more capacity limits on businesses and other restrictions going away, but the rules regarding mask-wearing vary — leading to confusion. NBC New York's Sarah Wallace and Greg Cergol report.

"NYC educators want their students physically in front of them. We want as many students back in school as safely possible. We are glad the Department of Education will hold open houses to show parents how safe our schools are," Mulgrew said in his statement. "We still have concerns about the safety of a small number of students with extreme medical challenges. For that small group of students, a remote option may still be necessary."

During his daily coronavirus press briefing, de Blasio made clear that, if needed, city schools would be ready to go back to remote-learning seamlessly, although he does not foresee that taking place based on the current COVID-19 information and data.

The update on schools took place on the same day that de Blasio revealed that the positivity rate in New York City is at 1.13% -- the lowest since September 2020. Meanwhile, the positivity rate for the entire state is at 1.09%.

The mayor also announced weekly prices as incentives to get more Big Apple residents vaccinated. Anyone 18+ is invited to enter the contest after the first dose of their vaccine at city-run sites. The contest runs through early July and prizes will include staycation packages, concert tickets, Broadway shows, among other perks.

Additionally, to get more people vaccinated, pop-up vaccine sites will be set up outside courts Monday and Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Lou Gehrig Plaza in the Bronx, Staten Island Courthouse Plaza, and Queens Borough Hall.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

In recent weeks, the Empire State has slowly emerged out of pandemic restrictions with no more outdoor dining curfew, no more capacity limits at most businesses and fully vaccinated people can shed their masks in most circumstances. More than 15,000 people gathered over the weekend at Madison Square Garden for a New York Knicks playoffs game. It's a sign that the end of the pandemic may be in sight.

The Knicks were able to increase seating capacity with the addition of sections for fully vaccinated fans, announcing during the week that Games 1 and 2 had both sold out. They're the largest indoor events in New York since the coronavirus pandemic began.

New Jersey is also attempting to raise its number of vaccinated residents, with Gov. Phil Murphy announcing a bevy of new incentives last week. The most lucrative: A free season pass to any state park — including Island Beach State Park — for anyone who has received at least one shot by July 4. Eligibility includes those who have already gotten shots before the initiative was announced.

The state's goal is to increase that number to 4.7 million by June 30, the governor said. As of Sunday, more then 3.9 million have been fully vaccinated.

“Clearly we have this virus on the run,” he said. “But while we have this virus on the run, the fight is not yet over.”

New York City officials have similar concerns despite the lifting of indoor mask rules. Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi last week said the risk of COVID-19 outdoors is low but he still worries about unvaccinated people.

"This includes children as well as people for whom immunity from vaccination has not fully kicked in," Chokshi added. "I do recommend continued mask use in many indoor settings until even more people are vaccinated."

Many businesses across the city still require masks indoors but the tides against COVID-19 appear to be turning with Mayor Bill de Blasio declaring this could be the “summer of New York City.”

Copyright NBC New York
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