Murphy again declares COVID public health emergency in NJ
TRENTON – Gov. Phil Murphy today reinstated a public health emergency, enabling his administration to continue relying on various orders and directives, including a school mask mandate, that would have otherwise expired tonight at midnight.
The public health emergency declared at the start of the pandemic in 2020 was repeatedly extended before expiring last July, as part of an agreement with the Legislature that extended some of Murphy’s pandemic powers through today.
Murphy asked for a 90-day extension of those powers, but lawmakers ultimately didn’t agree to extend them, in part because Murphy indicated Monday that the mask mandate would be continued, even though it wasn’t part of the resolution before the Legislature.
“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,” Murphy said. “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.”
Murphy said the declaration was made “in consultation with the Legislature.”
He said the public health emergency means the state will “continue to stand on a firm base of science and facts, and not politics and conspiracies, to keep your family and your community safe by getting ahead of omicron and staying there.”
“It does not mean any new universal mandates or passports. It does not mean lockdowns. It does not mean any business restrictions or gathering limits. It does not mean going backward from any of the progress we’ve made together over the past 22 months,” Murphy said. “In fact, in your day-to-day life, this step won’t have any new impact at all.”
Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, issued a joint statement after Murphy's announcement.
“As the pandemic continues to result in record-high cases and hospitalization levels, we hope to work together to do all we can to fight the spread of COVID-19," they said. "We will consider every option available to protect our communities and support our first responders, frontline workers and public services.”
Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, said Murphy is "taking a giant leap backward by reinstating a new public health emergency." He said Republican lawmakers weren't consulted and that it doesn't appear Democrats were, either.
"Gov. Murphy’s decision both circumvents legislative oversight and breaks his deal with his own party’s leadership," Bucco said. "We need to give people hope that life is returning to normal, not returning to one man’s rule by executive order."
The renewed public health emergency will also allow the state to continue its efforts with vaccines and testing, which also weren’t in the bill scuttled at the end of the recently expired legislative session.
Public health emergencies expire after 30 days, unless renewed. Murphy’s office said the state’s COVID-19 metrics will be re-evaluated at that time to determine if an extension will be needed.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.