Gov. Phil Murphy (Danielle Richards for New Jersey Monitor)
Gov. Phil Murphy declared a renewed public health emergency one day after legislative leaders decided not to vote on a resolution to prolong some pandemic-related administrative orders.
Murphy, in a statement and video address released shortly before he was scheduled to deliver his annual State of the State speech, blamed the new emergency declaration on a rise in coronavirus cases fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The declaration returns to the governor broad emergency powers used to impose business shutdowns, mask mandates, and capacity limits earlier in the pandemic, though the governor said he would not immediately impose any new limits.
A mask mandate for schools and day care centers he ordered in August will remain in effect, he said.
“While we hope to return to a state of normalcy as soon as possible, the step I am taking today is a common sense 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 said.
Murphy said the news “does not mean any new universal mandates or passports.”
“It does not mean lockdowns. It does not mean any business restrictions or gathering limits. It does not mean going backward from any of the progress we’ve made together over the past 22 months. In fact, in your day-to-day life, this step won’t have any new impact at all,” he said.
In a second executive order, the governor extended past orders requiring health care facilities report data on availability of personal protective equipment and hospital beds to state officials, allowing some retired health care workers to return to work, and enabling New Jersey’s vaccine logging system.
It also stops the expiration of orders requiring health care, child care, school, and state workers be vaccinated or regularly tested for COVID-19.
The state’s initial public health emergency lapsed in June after Murphy and legislative leaders reached a deal to keep some pandemic measures in place until the start of the new legislative session on Tuesday.
The bill allowed Murphy to seek a 90-day extension of certain pandemic-related orders. Murphy last week asked the Legislature for that extension, but the resolution they advanced on Thursday offered only a 45-day extension on some directives and orders. The full body never vote on it, with Steve Sweeney — who was still the senate president yesterday — expressing frustration that Murphy announced he would keep the school mask mandate in place without consulting with the Legislature.
Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Morris) was one of the first Republicans to publicly criticize Murphy for the new emergency declaration.
“Governor Murphy’s decision both circumvents legislative oversight and breaks his deal with his own party’s leadership. We need to give people hope that life is returning to normal, not returning to one man’s rule by executive order,” Bucco said in a statement.
Republican State Chairman Bob Hugin called the declaration an instance of government overreach and promised to use the matter against Democrats at the polls this year.
“Phil Murphy has thrown out the will of the people and their representatives by declaring yet another public health emergency to protect nothing but the fragility of his own ego,” he said. “Voters in November sent the clear message that they want our leaders to work to make New Jersey more affordable, to prioritize the education of our children, and to leave the lockdowns and mandates that destroyed lives behind.”
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