TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey will lift its indoor mask mandate for people vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning on Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.
The announcement comes about a week after Murphy, a 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.
Also on Friday, the state is lifting the requirement for maintaining 6 feet at all indoor and outdoor businesses such as restaurants, retail stores, gyms and casinos.
New Jersey had been an outlier, with neighboring Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania aligning with the CDC soon after its advice came out.
The state’s vaccination rates have been climbing, with Murphy pledging to fully inoculate 70% of the population by June 30.
Murphy faced a torrent of criticism over the delay, especially from Republicans who are hoping to defeat him in November as he seeks reelection to a second term.
He dismissed it, though, and said the decision focused on avoiding more deaths from COVID-19.
Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli pointed to daily deaths still in the double digits and the daily infection rate hovering above lows seen last summer as rationales for continuing the mask mandate.
“The steps we’ve announced today are the clearest signs of our commitment to carefully and deliberately reopening our state,” Murphy said.
Businesses that oversee indoor spaces, however, may continue to require masks for customers and employees. Masks are still required in public state offices, such as motor vehicle commission buildings, in all health care settings, on airplanes, buses and other forms of transportation and in transportation hubs like airports.
Masks will also still be required in schools, child care centers and summer camps.
On June 4, all indoor gathering limits will be lifted. Last week, the state did away with a mandate to wear them outdoors for vaccinated people.
In addition to wanting more time to vaccinate people, Murphy also explained his decision to delay relaxing mask requirements by saying he thought it was unfair for front-line workers at grocery stores, for example. He said they'd have to unfairly police every patron.
Nearly 4.1 million New Jersey residents have been vaccinated. That's nearly half of the state's population.