Will masks be mandatory again in NJ? ‘Stealth Omicron’ is spreading

A new strain of COVID-19 has New Jersey officials worried. But while the governor isn’t yet ready to implement another statewide term, some lawmakers say that shouldn’t be his decision to make.

The sub-variant, BA.2, is nicknamed “stealth Omicron”. It recently jumped to 23.1% of new cases in the United States, according to the CDC.

The state is “closely watching” an upcoming increase in cases, according to a statement from Gov. Phil Murphy.

“However, at this time, we do not anticipate any need to reinstate universal statewide mandatory protective measures,” Gov. Murphy said Thursday. He encouraged residents to get vaccinated and boosted, get tested if needed, and check the CDC’s masking recommendations.

This is not a promise that mask requirements in schools or the public will not return. Murphy could declare another public health emergency at any time.

The governor only recently lifted the previous declaration of emergency. He ended it publicly during the final COVID-19 press briefing on March 7. It’s unclear whether Murphy would start holding these briefings again if BA.2 caused a significant increase in cases or hospitalizations.

Republican Congressman Brian Bergen (R-25) told New Jersey 101.5 that he doesn’t want the governor’s office to have exclusive control over mandates or public health statements.

“The legislature has yet to resume its role as checks and balances on the executive branch in the future,” Bergen said. “There are several options on the table; all we need is the courage of our leadership. The last two years of unilateral control must not happen again.

Murphy also indicated that his administration will treat the virus as part of everyday life.

“We’re not going to run COVID zero and we’re not immune to the virus. We expect COVID to continue to mutate and cases to continue to go up and down,” Murphy said. “Moving to endemic status still means we all have to take personal responsibility to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

Another Republican had words for the governor’s recent pivot to personal accountability instead of statewide terms.

“Suddenly the data doesn’t drive the dates unless Governor Murphy vicariously admits that the last two years of Covid control have been a failure,” said Rep. Beth Sawyer (R-3) in New Jersey 101.5.

New Jersey 101.5 reached out to President Craig Coughlin and Majority Leader Louis Greenwald for comment on Friday.

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