Despite COVID-19 levels surging to their highest levels in months and the state recommending mask-usage indoors, Gov. Phil Murphy assured during a July 29 evening appearance that the state was still “far” away from the kinds of intense closures seen last spring.
At the height of the pandemic last year, casinos, gyms, malls, salons, sit-down restaurants, theaters, entertainment venues and non-essential retail all had to shutter and then severely curtail operations. Masks were required in public, while non-essential travel and public gatherings were banned.
Virtually all COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in May as the pandemic waned amid then-steady vaccination rates and a drop-off in the pandemic.
Businesses could operate at full capacity for the first time in more than a year, and people who were fully vaccinated did not have to wear masks in public – prompting face-covering usage to crater in the months since then.
But daily cases and total hospitalizations have risen to their highest levels in months in what Murphy has frequently called a “pandemic among the unvaccinated.”
Daily cases rose past 1,000 on July 29 for the first time since May 8, and the state has logged 485 COVID-19 patients at its 71 hospitals. The transmission rate, positivity rate among tests, and the number of patients on ventilators and in critical care have all crept to their highest levels since the spring.
“I do not anticipate that we’re going to have to go through a lockdown in September or October or any other time,” said Murphy, who is facing reelection this November. “If we have to do it to save lives, we will do it.”
He denied that the elections are playing any factor in his current decisions, such as an announcement this week that people in high-transmission parts of the state are “strongly” urged but not required to wear masks indoors, even if they’re vaccinated.
“We have made so many calls that were unpopular,” the governor said earlier in the day.
Under guidance the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out this week, anyone in a county with a “substantial” or “high” rate of transmission should wear a mask indoors.
Federal data shows Monmouth county as having “high” transmission, while Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Gloucester, Middlesex, Ocean, Union and Passaic counties are all listed as having “substantial” transmission. Murphy said he wants to avoid county-by-county restrictions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an internal document, said that the Delta variant could spread as easily as the chickenpox – spreading through those with the vaccinated even though they’re safer.
Public health officials both in New Jersey, the Biden administration and neighboring states are stressing the effectiveness of the vaccine.
President Joe Biden on July 29 said he would mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for federal employees, while New York City and California are doing the same. Hoboken is mandating its employees get the vaccine or get weekly testing, making it one of the first jurisdictions in New Jersey to do so.
Murphy has not said whether he would follow suit for state workers.
“You have to leave all options on the table,” Murphy said yesterday.
High-risk jobs – hospitals, long-term care centers and other health care settings – would be the most logical places to require a vaccine or stringent testing, Murphy said. Several such as RWJ Barnabas, Trinitas and Hackensack Meridian Health have already implemented such requirements.