Gov. Phil Murphy and the state’s top lawmakers said on May 14 that they intend to lift the COVID-19 public health emergency after extending it one final time.
The goal, Murphy and several top Democratic lawmakers said on Friday, is that the order would be lifted in exchange for a bill enacted in the next month that would keep in place some of the governor’s powers granted under the public health emergency.
“In order to continue on the path to normalcy, we need all available resources to continue our progress in vaccinating New Jerseyans and finally beating back this pandemic,” Murphy said in a statement.
The legislation, he added, needs to “ensure that we have the necessary tools and flexibility to continue the fight against the pandemic”–namely funds that would otherwise need to go through a drawn-out state appropriations process.
Both Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, – the top lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly, who would ultimately have the final say in whether a bill gets to move forward in their respective chambers- signed off on the enactment of such a bill.
The May extension of the public health emergency marks the 15th time in a row since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020. Those orders are required to keep in place the state’s myriad of restrictions on businesses, travel and other public activities, all in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.
Most of those restrictions are slated to be lifted May 19, in what Murphy has called the “most aggressive reopening to date.”
Widespread vaccination efforts and drop-offs in key metrics – hospitalizations, transmission rate, fatalities and daily positive cases – all point toward the virus finally being brought under control.
“It’s the beginning of the end of a crisis that has tragically claimed the lives of an unimaginable number of New Jerseyans and impacted the lives and livelihoods of nearly everyone,” Sweeney said in a statement.
“The new normal won’t be normal for some time. We have to make the best use of our resources, our abilities and our determination to address the needs of our citizens,” he said.
More than 3.84 million people who live, work or study in New Jersey have been fully vaccinated, and eligibility has fully opened to children between the ages of 12 and 15 following Pfizer’s emergency federal approval to use the vaccine on that age group.
Murphy’s goal is to fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by the end of June, followed by teenagers and children.
The state logged just 559 new cases on Sunday – the lowest single-day count since Oct. 12.
Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that fully vaccinated Americans only need to wear face coverings and practice social distancing in a highly limited set of circumstances, rather than the blanket guidelines in place for the pandemic thus far for anyone to wear masks when in public.
Murphy nonetheless said last week that New Jersey was “not there yet” in terms of dropping the blanket mandate. While fully vaccinated people would not have to wear the mask outside when in public, unvaccinated New Jerseyans should still wear a mask when in a crowded setting.
He suggested that the state-level mask mandate could be lifted should vaccination numbers and COVID-19 metrics improve.