Gov. Murphy Lifts Outdoor Mask Mandate, Expects to Lift Indoor Mask Mandate in ‘Not-So-Distant Future’

By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor

TRENTON, N.J. — On Monday, Governor Phil Murphy announced that he is lifting the state’s mask mandate for outdoor public settings.

During his COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Gov. Murphy offered a more formal response to the CDC’s updated guidance regarding COVID-19 safety protocols that was released Thursday. In his initial response, which was a string of tweets posted Friday afternoon, he said that New Jersey will continue to mandate mask-wearing in indoor public settings — a move he confirmed at Monday’s COVID-19 briefing.

Monday’s executive order only applies to outdoor public settings. New Jersey has never instituted a general outdoor mask mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began last March.

“Even though those who are unvaccinated should continue to exercise caution, today I will sign an executive order eliminating the outdoor mask mandate altogether in settings open to the public,” Gov. Murphy said Monday. “However, there remains a simple reason why the indoor mask requirement will remain in effect. While we have made tremendous progress, we are not out of the woods yet. The majority of New Jerseyans are still unvaccinated, and we’re not checking anyone’s vaccine status at the door when you go to the supermarket or to a hardware store, for instance.”

Other states, including New York and Pennsylvania, are following the CDC’s guidance and eliminating nearly all mask-wearing and social distancing requirements. The CDC still advises people wear masks while traveling on planes, trains, and buses along with high-risk settings such as prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes.

Many New Jerseyans were frustrated by Gov. Murphy’s decision not to lift the indoor mask mandate — especially considering New York and Pennsylvania did so. However, he insisted that New Jersey “just need[s] a little more time on the clock” to ensure its victory in the battle against COVID-19.

“As I’ve said time and again, we’ve gotten as far as we have because we all recognize that the pandemic required us to be a little bit more selfless and a little less selfish, and this is one of those times. Again, [wearing masks] is not forever and always,” he said. “We have this thing [COVID-19] on the run. That is thanks to each and every one of you. A little bit longer here, and we accelerate our ability to drive this virus into the ground, and we’re making at the same time tremendous strides in our vaccination program.”

States that are loosening their COVID-19 vaccinations now are essentially relying on the honor system to ensure that unvaccinated community members don’t go places without masks. The CDC’s updated guidance last week doesn’t apply the unvaccinated Americans, who are still strongly advised to wear masks in public.

With that in mind, Gov. Murphy is keeping the indoor mask mandate in place out of an abundance of caution, but he expects to lift it soon.

“Here’s what it boils down to: We are going to be able to take off our masks indoors in the not-so-distant future as more and more people complete their vaccination courses,” he said. “We just can’t yet because we need to know unequivocally that doing so will not lead to a backslide in our progress. … Remember, we have been at the epicenter of this pandemic twice. We have crushed the curve twice. We are determined to make sure that there is not a third time.”

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