Murphy Can Now Reclaim Pandemic Powers, Impose New Restrictions on NJ
When Gov. Phil Murphy formally ended New Jersey's public health emergency last June, state lawmakers enacted legislation allowing him to reclaim many of his sweeping pandemic powers if COVID metrics rose again.
Specifically, Bill A-5777 allows more restrictive COVID-19 mitigation measures if there is "an increase in hospitalizations, increased spot positivity, or rate of transmission above 1."
New Jersey's rate of transmission (r/t) is at 1.21 as of Monday and has been steadily rising for nearly two weeks.
While there has been no significant spike in hospitalizations and the spot positivity rate has remained relatively stable, the increase in the r/t allows for Murphy to enact tougher restrictions. That could include new mask requirements, limits on gatherings, and potentially on travel.
The number of new positive tests for COVID has shown a significant increase. It's up 23% from a week ago and 34% since October. Every New Jersey County has also moved back into the highest risk category for community spread, according to the CDC data tracker.
Murphy has given no signal he is considering new restrictions, but he and state health officials are alarmed by the sharp spike in the r/t. Murphy tweeted new urgings this weekend to get vaccinated or get a booster shot to avoid "putting yourself, your family or community at risk."
With the Summer of '21 approaching, residents, businesses, and tourism officials were becoming increasingly uneasy and intolerant of pandemic restrictions. Murphy would only agree to allow the public health emergency to expire if the legislature granted him the ability to reclaim his powers if COVID cases dramatically increased.
Lawmakers passed a bill that set a deadline of January 2022, for most existing executive orders to expire but allowed Murphy to extend those orders and increase restrictions if certain thresholds were reached.
The most recent executive order containing general COVID-19 mitigation measures regarding masking, social distancing, and gatherings prior to the effective date of this bill and this executive order will only be modified in a manner to provide less restrictive measures unless an increase in hospitalizations, increased spot positivity, or rate of transmission above 1 necessitates a modification that would be more restrictive. - Assembly Bill 5777
New Jersey is not the only area where COVID cases are on the rise. Cases have spiked across much of the United States.
The spike is particularly worrisome to national health officials as we approach the holiday season as families and friends come together to celebrate indoors.
Chief White House Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on ABC's 'This Week' he was particularly concerned about the unvaccinated joining holiday celebrations and traveling. People who are not vaccinated, Fauci said, "Are the major source of the dynamics of the infection in the community. The higher the level of dynamics of infection, the more everyone is at risk."
Fauci also stopped short of suggesting new COVID restrictions but did use the rise in new cases to advocate for more of the unvaccinated to take the jab, and for the fully vaccinated to get a booster shot.