TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Masks are still required indoors in New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday, but he and the Democrats who control the Legislature said they plan to end the public health emergency granting him vast powers by next month.
Murphy's announcement that the state will retain an indoor mask requirement because of COVID-19 butts up against federal guidance from Thursday saying that vaccinated Americans can ditch masks outdoors and in many indoor situations.
The governor has said that fully vaccinated people can forgo masks outside, but hasn't lifted an indoor mandate. The governor said it's "only a matter of time," perhaps weeks before the mask mandate is lifted in New Jersey.
"We're frankly not there yet," he said during an event to urge people to get vaccinated in East Orange alongside actor Whoopi Goldberg.
Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin announced in a statement on Friday that the public health emergency, which has been in place since March 2020 will end in the middle of June.
"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.
Though rolling back the public health emergency hinges on whether Murphy and the leaders can agree on legislation to preserve some of the changes made in executive orders deemed necessary to continue to confront the outbreak.
Just what those details are or what the legislation will look like is not clear.
Murphy said in a statement his administration wants to keep "necessary tools to manage the ongoing threat to public health, as well as recovery and vaccination efforts."
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State law permits the governor to use executive orders during a public health emergency, which must be renewed every month or it expires. The administration has cited the state's Emergency Health Powers Act, among other laws, as the basis for mask requirements, business closures and — in the early days of the outbreak — stay-home orders.
It's unclear why Murphy disagrees with the CDC mask guidance for fully vaccinated people.
New Jersey has gone from among the top states with the most cases per capita in the country earlier this year to the bottom half of states with new coronavirus cases.
New cases over the past two weeks have fallen by more than 50%, and have been declining at a similar rate for days.
So far about 43% of the state's population has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Murphy has set a goal of vaccinating 70% of adults, or 4.7 million people, by June 30.
The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in New Jersey fell from nearly 33 on April 28 to almost 24 a day on May Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
New Jersey has tallied 23,234 deaths from COVID-19, according to the state Health Department.