TRENTON — With a statewide school mask mandate which he called "the last major mitigation measure we had in place" to expire on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday that the COVID-19 public health emergency he declared for New Jersey would also end effective March 7.

In a procedural move to allow his administration to retain certain pandemic powers at the height of the surge of the omicron variant, Murphy instituted a new public health emergency declaration on Jan. 11, then extended it on Feb. 7 when he announced the impending end of mandatory school masking.

"I know you are exhausted both mentally and physically and ready to return to normal, and let there be no doubt, so are we," Murphy said Friday, reiterating during his final scheduled COVID briefing that New Jersey was transitioning from the pandemic to an endemic phase of the virus responsible for more than 30,000 deaths in the state.

While the public health emergency will sunset, Murphy said a more general, COVID-related state of emergency first issued on March 9, 2020 remains in effect, similar to the one then-Gov. Chris Christie declared following Superstorm Sandy. Murphy said the Sandy order is still active almost a decade later.

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Such designations allow New Jersey to continue to receive and distribute federal recovery funds, according to Murphy, but do not affect everyday life in the Garden State.

"The time when large-scale mitigation measures were necessary has passed, and hopefully, will never return," he said.

Responding specifically to that quote, state Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, issued a statement later Friday calling for Murphy to lift any remaining COVID vaccination mandates issued by his administration.

"The governor should lift his overbearing vaccine mandates for health care workers, nursing home aides, and corrections officers," Bucco said. "Nobody should be fired from their job because they want to make their own health care decisions."

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