Starting Oct. 18, state workers, and employees at K-12 schools and New Jersey’s public colleges and universities are required to get the COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly testing.
The mandates are part of an effort by the Murphy administration to clamp down on widespread COVID-19 vaccine resistance, which helped fuel a surge in delta variant outbreaks during the late summer and early fall.
“We’re not going to sacrifice the health of our kids or staff, and masking and vaccinations of both students and staff, along with a layered approach to safety, is our top priority for starting the year,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in the August announcement.
Murphy, when pressed several times at his regular COVID-19 press briefing on Oct. 18, said “I don’t know, off the top of my head, what percentage of people are vaccinated.”
“But I know it’s a very high percentage.”
Several public employees are suing the state over the vaccine mandate, according to NJ.com, but Murphy on Monday would not comment on the legal challenge.
The state order extends to all staff and employees at public colleges and universities, and at any state agencies and other authorities. Under a separate order announced in August by the State Judiciary, the 8,700 county and appeals court employees had until Aug. 20 to get the shot.
All workers at hospitals, long-term care centers, prisons, and other high-risk congregate settings were required by Sept. 7 to get the vaccine or submit to routine testing.
The mandates come as state workers are told to return to their in-person offices on a rolling basis, for the first time since March 2020. They’re being phased in over the next month, Murphy said.
Vendor delays have made it that the testing option cannot be rolled out for school districts, according to Murphy, meaning they have extra time to implement the testing.
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli on Monday did not have a number for how many school districts were affected.
Many hospitals across the nation – including RWJBarnabas Health and Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey – require their workers to get the vaccine.
Meanwhile, United Airlines, which uses Newark Liberty International Airport in its namesake city as a national hub, was giving its workers until the end of this month to get the jab.
In reaction to the mandates, many health care institutions and other large employers report seeing widespread compliance rather than the much-feared worker exodus.
Other large employers and event organizers began requiring the vaccine, especially after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer inoculation, and as it gives the greenlight or serious consideration for the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna vaccine booster shots.
In September, President Joe Biden said that businesses with more than 100 employees would have to require their workers to get the vaccine.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is hashing out those rules, which according to state labor officials could affect 4,646 private worksites employing nearly 1.4 million people in New Jersey.
Nearly 6 million people who live, work or study in New Jersey have been fully vaccinated out of New Jersey’s 9.2 million residents, according to data from the state Health Department.
That marks a 75% vaccination rate among all those who are eligible, according to the governor.
Widespread vaccinations, on top of the use of face coverings, are essential in order to clamp down on the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks this holiday season, according to state health officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:05 p.m. EST on Oct. 18, 2021, to include remarks from Gov. Phil Murphy’s COVID-19 press briefing on that day.