Just in time for the unofficial start of summer at the Jersey Shore, people can remove face masks indoors in many places and get closer to each other as COVID-19 cases drop and vaccinations continue to slowly increase.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday that he would sign an executive order lifting New Jersey's statewide COVID-19 indoor mask mandate on Friday, allowing people less restrictions over Memorial Day weekend and beyond.
NEW: Effective May 28th, the statewide indoor mask mandate will be lifted.⁰⁰Businesses and entities overseeing indoor spaces may continue to require face masks for employees, customers, and/or guests. pic.twitter.com/49MFib2hqK— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) May 24, 2021
The move puts New Jersey in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance that fully vaccinated people can remove their masks indoors and outside.
People who have yet to have two weeks pass since their second dose of the Moderna and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are urged to still wear a face covering indoors. Murphy said they are putting the responsibility of masking on individuals.
"Please be responsible and do the right thing – for your own safety and your community’s safety," Murphy said.
Retail businesses and public places can continue their own masking policies, Murphy said.
Murphy urged people to continue wearing a face mask if they continue to feel more comfortable doing so.
The announcement comes about a week after Murphy, a first-term Democrat, rejected similar mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying he wanted “more time on the clock” for people to get vaccinated.
Murphy already lifted the state's outdoor mask mandate last week. On Monday, he reminded people that the battle against coronavirus continued.
"This pandemic is not over," Murphy said. "Lifting the mask mandate is not a license to be a knucklehead. Lifting the mask mandate is simply acknowledging how far we’ve come together and that, together, we’ll cross the finish line."
Where Face Masks Must Still Be Worn With COVID-19 Still Slowing Spreading in New Jersey
Masks must still be worn by everyone in health care settings, at correctional facilities, at homeless shelters, on public transit and at transportation hubs like train stations and airports. Face masks must still be worn in "public-facing state offices" like Motor Vehicle Commission offices, Murphy said.
People working in warehousing and manufacturing also must still be masked, Murphy said.
With children under the age of 12 unable to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, Murphy is keeping mask mandates in place at summer camps, day cares, preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools, including charter and renaissance schools.
The lifting of the indoor masks mandate in many indoor spaces was a long time coming. Murphy noted that New Jersey was the first state in the United States to implement an indoor mask mandate in April, 2020.
Murphy's decision in not immediately adopting the latest CDC guidance left New Jersey as one of the few states to keep those fully vaccinated wearing masks in most indoor settings. Pennsylvania (with the exception of Philadelphia) and Delaware both eased rules for mask wearing for people with the COVID-19 vaccine.
The expected dropping of the mask mandate came as a relief last week to bars and restaurants in the state, frustrated that they still had to tell customers to mask up while their counterparts in neighboring states didn't have to.
"It's really good because a couple of months ago we have people coming here not wanting to wear a mask, and they would just leave. And I was like, 'Listen, it's the law, it's not us,'" said Lou Pipon, owner of Mickey's Sports Bar in Lyndhurst.
On Friday, Murphy will lift the 6-foot distance requirement indoors (including casinos and gyms) and outside, where masking is no longer required. People must still keep apart in situations where masking is required, per CDC guidance.
NEW: Effective May 28th, we will lift the requirement for maintaining six feet of social distancing in indoor and outdoor settings.⁰⁰Per @CDCgov guidance, social distancing will continue to be required in settings where masking is required. pic.twitter.com/YzxzIVkDx8
NEW: Effective May 28th, we will lift the requirement for maintaining six feet of social distancing in indoor and outdoor settings.⁰⁰Per @CDCgov guidance, social distancing will continue to be required in settings where masking is required. pic.twitter.com/YzxzIVkDx8— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) May 24, 2021
"We will lift the prohibitions on: dance floors at bars and restaurants, ordering and eating/drinking while standing at bars and restaurants," Murphy said.
On Friday, June 4: All indoor gathering limits and limits on large indoor venues will be lifted. That means stadiums and arenas can pack the house again.
"The steps we’ve announced today are the clearest signs of our commitment to carefully and deliberately reopening our state," Murphy said Monday. "We continue to trend in the right direction with every indicator and our vaccination numbers have increased dramatically over the last two weeks."
More than 4.08 million people in New Jersey are fully vaccinated against the virus, as the state inches closer to Murphy's goal of 4.7 million people fully vaccinated by the end of June.
New Jersey already lifted capacity limits for indoor dining, houses of worship, retail businesses, gyms, salons, amusement parks, pools, performances and other catered events as of Wednesday. Click here for the full details on specific changes according to Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order. New Jersey also dropped its travel advisory.
The state, however, is still reporting deaths from coronavirus complications (a lagging indicator). Ten new deaths were reported Friday to bring the confirmed total to 23,440.