Almost 15 months after his installation, Governor Phil Murphy on Friday signed an executive order ending the public health emergency he declared in New Jersey due to the coronavirus pandemic as cases and hospitalizations of the state continues to decline as more and more people get vaccinated.
But that doesn’t mean all of Murphy’s emergency orders or the state’s few remaining COVID-19 restrictions – such as masking in schools – disappear immediately. The Democratic governor also signed a controversial and fast-tracked bill on Friday allowing his administration to retain certain powers to continue managing the state’s recovery over the next eight months.
This law (A5820 / S3866) – which the Democratic-controlled legislature passed a day earlier despite Republican outcry – eliminates most of Murphy’s 140 or so pandemic-related decrees in 30 days. But it retains 14 ordinances, including current state masking rules and moratoriums on evictions and utility closures, until January 1. The governor could revoke or vary the remaining ordinances sooner.
âToday’s lifting of the COVID-19 public health emergency is a clear and decisive step on the road to normalcy,â Murphy said in a statement. âThe past 15 months have been a challenge, and I thank all of the New Jersey people who stayed home, masked, took precautions to control this virus and got vaccinated for getting us there. . “
Murphy signed both the ordinance and the law exactly one year and three months after New Jersey announced its first positive coronavirus test on March 4, 2020. The state was a pandemic hotspot and is home to more than 26,000 deaths from COVID-19, the most per capita among U.S. states.
The governor, however, has significantly eased restrictions related to COVID-19, as numbers have improved in recent months. Last month, Murphy lifted the mask of state and social distancing warrants in most public places. His measures on Friday come the same day the state removed all indoor gathering limits and made masks optional for people vaccinated in private workplaces.
Murphy noted that all state coronavirus capacity restrictions on businesses and collection limits are now gone – although masking and social distancing rules remain in place in schools and daycares, in camps summer and in public transport, among others, in accordance with the guidelines of the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
âYou can feel relief from top to bottom of the state,â the governor said Friday morning during an interview on MSNBC.
This new law – which Murphy negotiated with key state lawmakers – ensures that the governor’s administration “has the tools and flexibility to continue with vaccination and screening efforts, ensure protection of vulnerable populations, and oversee and coordinate the health care system to deal with this continuing threat, “according to a joint statement by Murphy, President of the State Senate Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester and President of the State Assembly Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex.
Republicans argued that the legislation does not do enough to limit Murphy’s control and was passed too quickly, without public hearings, just one day after the final version was introduced.
“This is not the way to run a railroad, or a government for that matter,” said MP Ned Thomson, R-Monmouth.
In addition, protesters gathered outside the Statehouse in Trenton on Thursday to oppose the measure and call on the state to lift mask warrants at school. They chanted repeatedly “Murphy is not our king.”
Murphy declared a public health emergency in March 2020 as the virus began to spread rapidly across the state and has extended it every month since then. This gave him sweeping unilateral powers to fight the pandemic, including the ability to impose business closings and hide orders in New Jersey.
Republicans and other critics have long complained that Murphy wielded too much authority without legislative control, as he lifted restrictions more slowly than other states. (The criticism has come with an upcoming election: the governor and all 129 seats in the Democratic-controlled Legislature are on the ballot this year.)
Murphy and leading Democratic lawmakers announced last month that they have reached a deal to end the emergency as the state’s outbreak improves dramatically. The deal: Murphy would stop prolonging the emergency if lawmakers passed a law like this.
The new law would give his administration the ability to oversee coronavirus testing, vaccinations and data collection until January 11. The governor could then ask the legislature for a 90-day extension.
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Murphy’s 14 Orders remain in effect until the end of the year – or until Murphy revokes or changes them – include:
- Current statewide masking rules. But the new law would prevent Murphy from installing masking and social distancing restrictions that go beyond CDC guidelines unless there is a major increase in Garden State’s COVID-19 numbers.
- A moratorium on evictions during the crisis. (It’s a provision that has upset Republicans, who say the moratorium has hurt homeowners. Supporters say it has helped people out of work because of the pandemic.)
- A moratorium on insurance companies canceling policies for those who do not pay.
- A moratorium on cuts to public services for those who do not pay.
- Outdoor dining expanded in restaurants.
- A requirement that healthcare facilities provide the state with daily data reports.
- Protocols to summer youth camps.
- Protect federal stimulus payments from wage garnishment.
In addition, the law reinstates the seven-day deadline for officials to respond to requests for public documents – but not for documents related to COVID-19. Republicans said it was not enough.
It also ends a controversial provision protecting healthcare providers, including long-term care facilities, from residents who can bring civil and criminal proceedings on September 1. Doctors and nurses handling COVID-19 tests and vaccinations would still be protected. Critics argued that the provision protects the healthcare industry from citizens.
Additionally, the law allows Murphy’s administration to oversee coronavirus testing, vaccinations, and data collection until January 11. The governor would then have to seek approval from the Legislature for a 90-day extension.
More than 4.1 million people who live, work or study in the state have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 at sites in New Jersey. This includes 93,063 out-of-state residents who were vaccinated in New Jersey. Another 168,221 New Jersey residents were vaccinated in other states.
The state has set a goal to have 70% of New Jersey’s 6.9 million adults vaccinated by the end of the month. About 57% of adult residents have been fully vaccinated so far. More than 248,000 children between the ages of 12 and 17 have also been vaccinated in New Jersey.
The state’s seven-day average for new COVID-19 tests confirmed to be positive is now 232 – down 39% from a week ago and 84% from a month ago. Hospitalizations, meanwhile, fell to their lowest level since the end of September.
NJ Advance Media Editor Matt Arco contributed to this report.
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Brent Johnson can be reached at [email protected].