Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday he plans to extend the new public-health emergency he declared in New Jersey last month to battle a big surge in the coronavirus pandemic for at least another 30 days as it expires later this eek.
While that will continue the statewide mask mandate for another month, Murphy also announced Monday the state will end face covering requirements inside schools and childcare centers starting March 7.
“Later this week, we will extend the public health emergency by 30 days to allow for this mask mandate to continue until then and then be responsibly lifted,” Murphy said during his latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton.
MORE: Here are the details of Gov. Murphy’s plans to lift N.J. school mask mandate next month
Murphy stressed once again that the state is “not going to manage COVID to zero.”
“We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase of this virus,” he said.
Murphy’s announcements come amid an ever-growing backlash from Republicans who are angry over how the governor has issued sweeping orders to combat the pandemic the last two years. There has also been pushback from a few of Murphy’s fellow Democrats.
The governor declared a public-health emergency in March 2020 as the virus started spreading rapidly across New Jersey. That instilled him with the power to unilaterally install sweeping measures to fight the illness’ spread.
Murphy and leaders of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature reached a deal to end the emergency last June, but the governor retained some powers to fight the pandemic.
Last month, Murphy declared a new public-health emergency to fight the recent wave driven by the omicron variant of the virus when the Legislature declined to extend some of his remaining powers and orders.
Recently, a few Republican lawmakers and one Democratic colleague sponsored a bill that would curtail the emergency powers of any New Jersey governor and give the state Legislature a greater say in such matters.
New state Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union — New Jersey’s highest-ranking state lawmaker — told NJ Advance Media last week that bill is unlikely to advance but lawmakers “revisit” the Emergency Health Powers Act of 2005 sometime “in the future.” That’s the law that instilled Murphy with the widespread powers he has used during the pandemic, without needing the Legislature’s approval.
Asked Monday about Scutari’s comments, Murphy said he was open to examining whether the “balance” of power should be altered.
“We all want to look at this and figure out if we have the right tools at our disposal,” the governor said.
New Jersey on Monday reported another 15 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 1,490 confirmed cases. That’s the fewest number of confirmed positive tests announced in a single day since Nov. 22, just before Thanksgiving.
The state’s seven-day average for confirmed positive tests dropped to 2,563, down 49% from a week ago and 91% from a month ago as the recent surge driven by the omicron variant continues to decline steadily. That’s the lowest average since Dec. 3.
The seven-day average peaked at 27,914 on Jan. 10. The highest single-day total of positive tests was 33,459 on Jan. 7.
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