Update on New Jersey mask mandates

What you need to know about Governor Murphy’s re-declaration of a public health emergency in the state of New Jersey

Derek Derienzo, News Editor

Governor Phil Murphy once again declared a public health emergency in New Jersey on Tuesday night. Hours before his speech before the state, his powers, including his ability to restrict social distancing and enforce mask and vaccine mandates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, expired.

Murphy retained said powers in June of 2021 when he made a deal with Democratic legislative leaders that ended New Jersey’s public health emergency. In return for more influence for lawmakers regarding the pandemic, Murphy was granted prolonged management over the pandemic in New Jersey until January 11 of this year. With his new executive order, Murphy is able to keep his authority over the pandemic in the state.

Before his speech Tuesday night, Murphy urged the Legislature to renew his authority for 90 days. Last week, the Legislature settled for a resolution extending Murphy’s powers for 45 more days. The school mask mandate was not among one of the powers that the legislators could extend through this bill. Murphy could have signed this bill, therefore extending his powers for a shorter period of time than was originally on the table, or he could extend his executive order by declaring a public health emergency once more. 

Regardless of his decision, Murphy had planned to keep the mask mandate for students and staff in schools “for the foreseeable future”, as there has been an upsurge in COVID-19 cases across all schools in New Jersey. 

As of Tuesday night, Murphy has redeclared a public health emergency. 

“COVID-19 remains a significant threat to our State and we must commit every resource available to beating back the wave caused by the omicron variant,” said the governor in a statement. Murphy added, “While we hope to return to a state of normalcy as soon as possible, the step I am taking today is a commonsense measure that will protect the safety and well-being of all New Jersey residents while allowing state government to respond to the continuing threat that COVID-19 poses to our daily lives.”

The expiration of Murphy’s powers and the 45-day resolution put forth by Legislatures  would have caused local districts to decide whether or not to enforce mask mandates in their respective schools. With the new declaration, Murphy will reinforce mask mandates for all schools in New Jersey. Many speculate that he holds too much authority, and that he plans to take drastic measures like he did at the beginning of the pandemic. Murphy responded to such information by saying in a video message that there will be no new business restrictions, gathering limits or mask mandate lockdowns. 

“In fact, in your day-to-day life, this step won’t have any new impact at all. What it does mean is that we can continue moving forward with our coordinated and responsible approach to putting Omicron and COVID behind us,” stated Murphy in his message. 

The governor’s actions follow a statewide increase in COVID-19 cases, as he furthermore stated in his message on Tuesday that New Jersey is averaging 35,000 new cases each day. The governor’s declaration of a public health emergency will last 30 days, and will give the state the ability to move resources as needed, according to Murphy.