Just as it appeared New Jersey was headed toward the lifting of more restrictions, Gov. Phil Murphy is changing the metrics he is using to make those determinations.

All of the major COVID-19 metrics that have been cited by Murphy and his COVID team for months have been trending in the right direction. It was anticipated Murphy would begin lifting more restrictions in the weeks ahead but he made a significant caveat during his Wednesday briefing. Citing a rise in the UK COVID variant seen in New Jersey, Murphy said he isn't comfortable lifting more restrictions at this time. The governor says the variant "hangs over our heads" because it is more easily transmitted and vaccines aren't as effective against it. The state has confirmed 50 cases of the U.K. mutation, with 14 of the cases in Ocean County. In many of those cases, health officials say the infected had recently traveled.

New Jersey's rate of transmission remains below 1.0, hospitalizations have dropped to levels not seen since last September and vaccination efforts have been ramping up. Murphy says those are all significant, and he would be planning a much more "aggressive" series of steps to reopen things if it weren't for the rise in the U.K. mutation.

It is assured that we will continue living under pandemic restrictions for at least a year as Murphy extends his Public Health Emergency for a 12th time in a row, and with it, his broad powers to control what you do and where you can go. Murphy's shutdown of the state last March plunged millions into unemployment, confined residents to their homes, left many businesses bankrupt and closed schools.

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Further complicating reopening plans are vaccination delays. Shortages of vaccine and scheduling issues have New Jersey at less than 10% of the goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population and, presumably, a full reopening of the state. From the beginning, Murphy has proclaimed "data determines dates." However, he has frequently been criticized for changing the "data" part of that equation. Pandemic weary residents have been clamoring for a return to normal by this summer, but reaching that goal appears less likely.

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