N.J.’s largest city will require face masks indoors as COVID cases ramp up – NJ.com

New Jersey’s largest city is now requiring face masks be worn indoors in all public settings — a step beyond current state requirements that “strongly recommend” coverings regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka made the mandate official hours after the state announced over 6,000 cases for the sixth consecutive day.

“We are still in the midst of a pandemic and need to take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard and best ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our residents,” Baraka said in a statement Monday afternoon. “I urge residents to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Get vaccinated and tested, especially during this holiday season, as we gather and spend more time with family and friends.”

New Jersey on Monday reported another 11 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 6,505 confirmed cases, amid a new winter surge of the pandemic largely attributed to the omicron variant.

All of New Jersey’s 21 counties are currently listed as having “high” rates of coronavirus transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency recommends that all people in high transmission counties wear masks for indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status.

According to an Essex County dashboard, Newark reported an additional 519 confirmed cases and no deaths Monday, and a total of 47,272 cases and 1,076 deaths in the county overall.

City officials said patrons will also be required to remain seated while at bars in the city and wear masks unless “actively eating or drinking.”

Baraka said Newark may add more measures based on the city’s positivity rate. Newark has a three-day rolling average of 11.89% as of Dec. 14, officials said.

“The city also strongly advises that all school staff and students be tested before they return to school after the holiday break,” officials said in the announcement of new measures.

Earlier in the year, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state “strongly recommended” face masks in areas of “increased risk” including the following:

  • Crowded indoor settings
  • Indoor settings involving activities in close contact with others who may not be fully vaccinated
  • Indoor settings where others’ vaccine status is unknown
  • When an individual is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease

In recent days, Murphy has said all options are “on the table” when it comes to reinstalling restrictions to fight the new surge, though he has said a statewide lockdown is not likely.

Murphy didn’t announce anything new Monday. When asked what numbers or trends he’s looking for before taking next steps, he said “it isn’t one number or one specific trend we hang our hat on.”

“One thing we can’t allow is our health system’s capacity to be overwhelmed,” the governor added during Monday’s COVID press briefing, which he said will be the last of the year.

With Christmas and New Year’s upon us, state officials are urging residents to get tested before participating in holiday gatherings. New Jerseyans can also take advantage of a new program, which will deliver free test kits to resident’s homes.

“Please this week before the holiday, stay home if you are sick and get tested before any holiday gatherings, especially if you have any potential exposure,” state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Monday.

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Steven Rodas may be reached at srodas@njadvancemedia.com.

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