With COVID now surging across the U.S. and in New Jersey, will new restrictions be coming?

Gov. Phil Murphy has been vacationing at his posh Italian Villa and is not due back in New Jersey until Thursday. It is increasingly expected when he returns he will implement new restrictions designed to curb transmissions of the dangerous Delta variant.

The most likely first step is to impose a new mask mandate and encourage social distancing. That would be in line with what the CDC is currently recommending. Murphy has already ordered all students and staff to mask up when school resumes on a few weeks.

When Murphy allowed the public health emergency to expire, he demanded the Legislature extend many of his sweeping pandemic powers. They did. If the rate of transmission rises above 1.0 and/or hospitalizations spike, Murphy's powers to restrict what New Jersey residents can and cannot do go back in effect. The rate is 1.26 and hospitalizations have been steadily increasing, to 760.

While a new mask mandate and social distancing rules are likely, it is less likely Murphy will impose new gathering limits and highly unlikely he will take the extreme steps we are seeing in New York City.

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City officials have announced the Key to NYC program. It will require anyone wanting access to indoor spaces and venues like restaurants, gyms and theaters to provide proof of vaccination status.

Contrast those rules with what we saw at the Phish concert this weekend in Atlantic City. The three day music fest drew nearly 40,000 people to the seaside resort town. No proof of vaccination status was required for entry. Social distancing was encouraged, but photos from the event show little space between most attendees.

Phish has announced all future concerts will require proof of vaccination or a negative test.

New Jersey has a relatively high vaccination rate compared to the rest of the nation. More than 5.4 million are considered fully vaccinated. Murphy has said that is one of the reasons he has not imposed sweeping new mandates even as the number of COVID cases have spiked more than 340% month to month.

While he may impose a mask mandate, Murphy appears content to let local towns and private businesses set their own rules as he runs for reelection.

Hoboken may encourage bars to deny entry to the unvaccinated. A Bergen County Greek restaurant announced a vaccine mandate for indoor dining. More private companies are considering vaccine requirements as a condition of employment.

Murphy, and his family, will have to show proof of a negative COVID test before being allowed to fly back to the U.S. on Thursday. Presuming that happens, he is likely to hold a briefing on Friday. We should get a pretty good idea of what's next at that time.

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