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Murphy Announces New Public Health Emergency Amid Omicron

The New Jersey governor declared a new public health emergency just as the previous orders were set to expire. Reinstating the emergency orders will allow current safety measures to stay in place.

(TNS) — Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday announced he has declared a new public-health emergency in New Jersey to keep measures in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus — including requiring masks in schools — ahead of them expiring at the end of the day.

The governor has said the “omicron tsunami” has been “washing across the state” as tens of thousands of new cases are reported daily and hospitalizations are reaching heights not seen since the initial wave.

NJ Advance Media was first to report the governor’s decision.

Reinstating a health emergency will allow Murphy to keep current measures in place — including mandates for teachers and health-care workers to be vaccinated or face regular testing, and a requirement that hospitals regularly report information to the state.

It also ensures other things put in place to try and fight back the pandemic can continue as they have despite receiving less public attention, like allowing pharmacists to administer coronavirus vaccines, eliminating the need to require a prescription to receive a COVID-19 test in certain scenarios, and managing staffing and resource distribution.

But Murphy insisted this not bring any new restrictions, mandates, passports, lockdowns, or gathering limits.

“It does not mean going backward from any of the progress we’ve made together over the past 22 months,” he said in a video message. “In fact, in your day-to-day life, this step won’t have any new impact at all.”

But Murphy said the virus “remains a significant threat to our state,” and “we must commit every resource available to beating back the wave caused by the omicron variant.”

“While we hope to return to a state of normalcy as soon as possible, the step I am taking today is a commonsense measure that will protect the safety and well-being of all New Jersey residents while allowing state government to respond to the continuing threat that COVID-19 poses to our daily lives,” he added in a statement.

The news comes after lawmakers rebuffed Murphy’s request for a 90-day extension of his remaining pandemic powers. The Democratic governor had appealed to the Democratic-controlled state Legislature for the move, but top legislators decided last week they would let nearly all of Murphy’s remaining powers lapse even though the state is in the midst of another big wave of the pandemic.

After Murphy’s announcement Tuesday, new state Senate President Nicholas Scutari, D- Union — who was sworn in earlier in the day — and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D- Middlesex, released a joint statement saying “we hope to work together to do all we can to fight the spread of COVID-19.”

“We will consider every option available to protect our communities and support our first responders, frontline workers, and public services,” they added.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday that current models suggest 20,000 to 30,000 daily COVID-19 cases in New Jersey for the duration of January and about 8,000 hospitalizations by early February.

If the models prove out, there will be about as many people within the state’s 71 hospitals as there were at the peak of the initial coronavirus surge two years ago — when hospitals were regularly on divert status, unable to accept new patients because of crowding, and refused elective procedures to people that could include things like cancer treatments.

Murphy had said Monday students and teachers will continue to be required to wear masks inside New Jersey schools and daycare facilities after the current order expires Tuesday. But he didn’t provide any sense of how long the extension will continue and said his administration was continuing to work with legislative leadership to reach a compromise.

After those comments, outgoing state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, in one of his last official acts as the top lawmaker in Trenton, declared neither house — the Senate or Assembly — would send Murphy any measures to extend his powers at all. He said it was “disrespectful” Murphy made his comments about the school mask mandate without “informing” the Legislature.

Sweeney, however, had already told NJ Advance Media well in advance of Murphy’s announcement he had no plans to go along with the governor’s requests despite his brief, yet impassioned speech on the Senate floor about Murphy’s lack of respect for the legislative branch in his school masking announcement.

Sweeney, D- Gloucester, and Murphy’s time working together has often been contentious.

After more than a year of unilaterally installing orders to fight the pandemic, Murphy cut a deal with Democratic legislative leaders last June to end New Jersey’s public health emergency in an effort to give lawmakers more of a say. In exchange, the agreement allowed Murphy to keep a number of powers to continue managing the pandemic until Jan. 11 — over the objection of Republicans who said the governor’s control had already lasted too long.

State Sen. Anthony Bucco, R- Morris, said Tuesday that Murphy “talks about moving New Jersey ‘forward,’” but “he’s taking a giant leap backward by reinstating a new public health emergency.”

“Governor Murphy’s decision both circumvents legislative oversight and breaks his deal with his own party’s leadership,” Bucco said. “We need to give people hope that life is returning to normal, not returning to one man’s rule by executive order.”

Murphy’s new emergency will be in effect for 30 days. The state law that established the governor’s ability to declare a public-health emergency requires it to be reinstated every 30 days if the governor thinks there’s still a need for one.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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