N.J. to Drop Indoor Masking Before Holiday Weekend, Murphy Says

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New Jersey will discontinue mandatory indoor masking rules for fully-vaccinated residents on Friday ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend that kicks off vacation season, Governor Phil Murphy said Monday.

Health-care settings, long-term care facilities, child-care settings, schools and public transit will still require masks, he said. Masks should still be worn in public-facing state facilities.

“We won’t have law enforcement checking people’s vaccination status. If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask, you may continue to do so,” he said at a virus briefing in Trenton. “We will not tolerate anyone being demeaned or bullied or excluded for wanting to continue to mask up.”

The governor had left the mask mandate in effect even after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 13 recommended that face coverings were no longer needed indoors or outdoors for those were were fully vaccinated. Neighboring New York lifted the mask mandate last week as Governor Andrew Cuomo told New Yorkers that it was time to “get back to life.”

Murphy, a Democrat running for re-election later this year, had said that New Jersey was “not there yet” and that it was too difficult for retail workers and other business owners to be able to know who was vaccinated and who wasn’t to effectively police mask wearing. California also kept its mask mandate in place until June 15, when the state will fully reopen.

On Monday, Murphy said he didn’t regret his choice to wait. He said the state’s vaccination numbers have gone up dramatically and that New Jersey needed the time to make sure the areas of the state where vaccinations were lagging would pick up. There are 20 municipalities where fewer than half of adults have received the vaccine, he said.

“Lifting the mask mandate isn’t a license to be a knucklehead,” he said. “This pandemic is not over. We cannot let up in our efforts.”

Murphy said effective Friday, the state will also lift requirement for maintaining six feet of social distancing for restaurants, gyms, casinos and other public places, and during religious ceremonies, funerals. Dance floors at bars and restaurants will also reopen Friday. On June 4, New Jersey will remove all indoor gathering limits. Operators will be free to enforce their own rules, though.

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