Gov. Phil Murphy is signing an executive order requiring all New Jersey health care workers, including those who are employed at long-term care and assisted living facilities and other congregate care settings, to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID.

During a stop in South Jersey on Wednesday, the governor said the new rule requires all workers in health care settings “to be up to date on their vaccinations, that means both primary course and booster with no test-out option.”

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Murphy noted the test-out option is already coming to an end because of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

Time is running out

He said unvaccinated workers in health care settings have until Jan. 27 to get their first vaccine dose, and they must get the second shot by Feb. 28.

For those workers in high-risk congregate living facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, veterans homes and correctional facilities, Murphy said unvaccinated workers have until Feb. 28 to get a first dose and March 30 to get a second.

He said health care workers already vaccinated have until Feb. 28 to get boosted, and those in high-risk congregate living facilities must get boosted by March 30.

Get vaccinated and boosted or else

“Anyone found in non-compliance will be subject to their workplace’s disciplinary process, up to and including termination,” said the governor.

“We are no longer going to look past those who continue to put their colleagues and perhaps I think even more importantly those who are their responsibility in danger of COVID. That has to stop.”

A staffing crisis?

Immediately after the announcement, state Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, issued a statement saying that this will almost certainly create a staffing crisis.

“Nursing homes, group homes, and veterans homes are already struggling to find enough skilled staff to care for New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents," he said. "By eliminating the testing alternative to vaccination for workers in these settings, Gov. Murphy is virtually guaranteeing that residents will face a shortage of caregivers. That will lead to unnecessary tragedies in facilities that have already sustained thousands of deaths during the pandemic."

Murphy noted health care workers, those in long-term care, assisted living facilities and corrections settings just starting their vaccination course will need to be boosted within three weeks of their booster eligibility date.

He said the only exemptions will be “for disability or other medical reasons or for deeply held religious beliefs.”

Andy Aronson, the president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, the group that represents long-term care and assisted living workers, applauded the governor’s goal of trying to get everybody vaccinated and boosted but said it could have a negative effect on staffing.

"While I understand and support that idea that we want all of our health care workers to be vaccinated and boosted, we also are dealing with a worker shortage here and we have to be cognoscente of what these kinds of mandates are going to do," he said.

He said almost 90% of nursing home and assisted living workers are vaccinated, but only about 43% are boosted.

State Sen. Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, also criticized the mandate as a burden on healthcare workers and caregivers who are "ready for a break."

"Instead of giving them extra support, they’re getting another new mandate from Gov. Murphy that will further thin their ranks and increase the workload of those who remain," she said. "It doesn’t make any sense and it certainly won’t be good for patients.”

Omicron impact on COVID cases in NJ

As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its third calendar year in New Jersey, some things have stayed true (hand-washing, advice to vaccinate) while others have evolved along with the latest variant (less monoclonal antibody treatments, new at-home anti-viral pills).

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