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July 28, 2021

N.J. urges residents to wear masks indoors when COVID-19 transmission is more likely

The updated recommendation from state officials applies to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people

New Jersey's coronavirus mask mandate isn't returning — yet. 

But state officials now "strongly recommend" that all residents, regardless of vaccination status, mask up when the risk of contracting COVID-19 is greater in certain indoor settings.

Gov. Phil Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli cited the state's rising number of COVID-19 infections and the continued spread of the highly-contagious Delta variant for issuing the updated guidance Wednesday.

"Our metrics are trending in the wrong direction, and new data suggests the Delta variant is more transmissible even among vaccinated individuals, which is why we are making this strong recommendation," Murphy and Persichilli said.

The highly-contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the country, leading to rising COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths among those who are not vaccinated. The Delta variant has become the dominant coronavirus variant in the United States, accounting for more than 80% of the country's new cases.

New Jersey reported 1,196 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, according to the statewide dashboard. That's a nearly 75% jump in cases over the last two months across New Jersey. The statewide rate of transmission has ticked up to 1.51, the highest it has been since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the state's COVID-19 metrics continue heading in the wrong direction, Murphy and Persichilli threatened that "more drastic action" may need to be taken — such as the return of a statewide mask mandate.

"We have crushed this virus repeatedly like no other state in the nation, and we are proud to boast among the country’s highest vaccination rates," Murphy and Persichilli said. "But at this point, given where our metrics are now, we feel the best course of action is to strongly encourage every New Jerseyan, and every visitor to our state, to take personal responsibility and mask up indoors when prudent." 

In the meantime, all vaccinated and unvaccinated are urged to mask up in the following situations.

• Crowded indoor settings
• Indoor settings involving activities with close contact with others who may not be fully vaccinated
• Indoor settings where the COVID-19 vaccine status of other people is unknown
• Indoor settings where a person is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease

Murphy and Persichilli also encouraged more unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, emphasizing that the "safe and highly effective" vaccines "are the surest way we can end this pandemic."

New Jersey has administered over 10.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. More than 5.2 million people across the state are fully vaccinated.

The state's updated guidance comes just one day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued new mask-wearing recommendations for all Americans. Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, is now encouraged to wear masks indoors in counties that are reporting high or substantial COVID-19 transmission.

South Jersey counties surrounding Philadelphia are only reporting moderate COVID-19 transmission and are currently unaffected by the guidance.

But Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties are currently experiencing substantial or high COVID-19 transmission, according to the CDC. Cape May County is currently not impacted by the guidance because it is only experiencing moderate transmission.

The CDC is also recommending that anyone who enters a school building should wear a mask. But New Jersey's updated guidance that was issued Wednesday mentioned nothing specifically about schools.

After initially requiring the state's indoor mask mandate to continue in elementary and secondary schools, New Jersey dropped the COVID-19 mask requirement in schools last month ahead of the upcoming academic year this fall.

Instead, local school districts are permitted to implement mask-wearing requirements as part of their own health and safety protocols for the upcoming school year. Students, teachers and staff may also continue wearing masks if they so choose.

After the CDC said in May that vaccinated Americans no longer had to wear masks in most indoor settings, New Jersey ended its indoor mask mandate ahead of the summer beach season at the Jersey Shore.

But Murphy warned at the time that ending the state's mask requirement did not equate to the COVID-19 pandemic being over. 

Masks have still been required in a number of indoor settings, such as health care and long-term care facilities and all forms of public transportation.

People who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have been strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks while in public indoor settings. However, Murphy said the state would not police its residents.

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