Newark is extending some of the state’s strictest COVID-19 vaccine rules for another two weeks as the omicron surge slows down.
Mayor Ras Baraka, in a Feb. 1 announcement, said he was extending the executive order until Feb. 16—meaning that businesses like restaurants, bars, gyms and theaters will need to require their patrons to show proof of vaccination, though not the booster, for admittance.
Certain establishments, such as houses of worship, pharmacies, medical facilities, hardware stores, government buildings and grocery stores, are exempt from the mandate. Indoor masks will be required until March 4.
Baraka acknowledged figures from later in January that show “that we are heading in the right direction,” but maintained that the measures were “necessary to prevent further spread” of COVID-19 in the city.
“We need to continue wearing our masks and getting vaccinated, as another form of protection, to remain on this path of progress,” he said on Tuesday.
Gov. Phil Murphy has largely defended local restrictions put in place by municipalities during the omicron surge – be it mask mandates or vaccine rules – while holding off from enacting any new statewide business restrictions, like were seen in 2020 and 2021.
“That’s the way we have wanted it,” Murphy said on Jan. 3. “The fact that you’re seeing these mandates being put in place is something we had anticipated. We, in fact, I’d say more than anticipated; frankly, welcome because we thought this was the right – we make the decision based on the local reality.”
Still, Murphy and other state leaders heading New Jersey’s COVID-19 response, like the state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, have likewise largely agreed that omicron is waning.
“There is good news that cases and hospitalizations likely peaked two weeks ago and continue to decline,” Persichilli said at a Jan. 24 COVID-19 press briefing.
Daily cases and total hospitalizations have continued to drop from their early to mid-January peaks. Though, in that month the state logged 2,380 confirmed COVID-19 fatalities, the most since May 2020, according to public data.
Murphy cautioned during a weekend television appearance on “Meet the Press” that New Jersey and the nation will have to “learn how to live with this,” since “we’re not [going to] manage this to zero.”
On Jan. 19, Murphy ordered that health care workers and those at “high risk” congregate settings – such as prisons, nursing homes and other long-term care centers – have to get the COVID-19 vaccine through February or March, as well as the booster, and will no longer have the option to take weekly tests. Many hospitals and other health care institutions already have their own vaccine mandates for workers, but said they’re largely wary of a government requirement for vaccines.