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May 24, 2021

New Jersey to lift indoor mask mandate, gatherings limit on Friday

Gov. Phil Murphy cautions that the coronavirus is 'on the run' but not yet defeated

New Jersey will lift its indoor mask mandate Friday as many residents and out-of-state travelers make their way to the Jersey Shore for Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of the summer beach season. 

But Gov. Phil Murphy warned that ending the mask requirement does not equate to the public health crisis being finished.

"This virus is on the run. There's no question about it. But it is not defeated," Murphy said. "We cannot let up in our efforts until we win this race and end this pandemic. Lifting the mask mandate is not a license to be a knucklehead. Lifting the mask mandate simply acknowledges how far we've come together and that together we will cross the finish line."

Masks will still be required in the following indoor settings:

• Health care settings and long-term care facilities
• Correctional facilities
• Homeless shelters
• Airplanes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation
• Transportation hubs, including airports and stations
• Public-facing state offices, such as Motor Vehicle Commission agencies
• Child care centers, preschools and youth summer camps
• Elementary and secondary schools

Businesses and other entities that operate indoor spaces may still require customers and employees to wear masks.

People who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks while in public indoor settings. However, Murphy said the state will not police its residents, saying that he expects people to be responsible.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks in most indoor and outdoor settings

In response, New Jersey lifted its outdoor mask mandate last week. But Murphy opted to keep the indoor mask mandate in place until more residents became vaccinated.

"I do not for one minute regret our taking of these extra two weeks to ensure that the dramatic decreases we have begun seeing in both cases and hospitalizations would continue," Murphy said. "If these past two weeks have pushed one more person to get vaccinated or save one extra person from hospitalization or death, then we are all better off."

Since April 2020, people only have been allowed to remove their masks indoors for religious or health reasons and when eating or drinking.

"The mask mandate was unquestionably the right call," Murphy said. "We know this has saved lives."

The state's requirement for maintaining six feet of social distancing in all public places also will be lifted Friday. That includes the following settings: 

• Restaurants and bars
• Retail spaces
• Personal care establishments
• Gyms and fitness centers
• Recreational and entertainment facilities, such as casinos
• Religious services
• Weddings
• Funeral and memorial services
• Political activities
• Performances

Social distancing still will need to be practiced in settings where masks remain required. Businesses are permitted to continue requiring social distancing if they choose.

Two other changes also are coming Friday: Dance floors at restaurants and bars, which have been shut down for the duration of the pandemic, will be permitted to reopen. Customers will be permitted to order and consume food and drinks while standing at a bar. 

New Jersey to lift all indoor gathering limits in June

The indoor gathering limits will be no more come June 4, Murphy said.

This will end the general indoor gathering limit of 50 people, the 250-person cap on certain indoor events and the 30% capacity limit on large indoor venues.

"These steps, when all added together, are the clearest signs of our commitment to carefully and deliberately reopening our state after what has been a truly crushing, almost 15-month period," Murphy said.

The state's current indoor gathering limits took effect Wednesday when New Jersey relaxed most of its COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, including the expiration of all outdoor capacity limits.

New Jersey is about 87% of the way toward reaching its goal of having 70% of the eligible population fully vaccinated by the end of June. More than 4 million residents are fully inoculated, and over 8.3 million vaccine doses have been administered.

The state reported 300 new COVID-19 infections Monday, a 93% drop since early April. New Jersey recorded 699 new COVID-19 hospitalizations, a 68% decline. The state's rate of coronavirus transmission stands at 0.64.

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