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State officials update indoor masking guidelines amid rising coronavirus cases

Vaccinated New Jerseyans are now advised to wear masks in high-risk indoor settings due to rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, said Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. – Photo by New Jersey Department of Health and Governor Phil Murphy / Twitter

Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli strongly recommended Wednesday that vaccinated individuals begin wearing masks indoors in situations of increased risk in addition to unvaccinated individuals, according to a press release.

Such settings include indoor places that are crowded, involve close contact with people who may not be vaccinated or have occupants whose vaccine status is unknown, according to the release. Vaccinated people are also recommended to wear a mask if they or someone nearby has a compromised immune system or medical conditions which increase the risk of severe coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“Our metrics are trending in the wrong direction, and new data suggests the delta variant is more transmissible even among vaccinated individuals, which is why we are making this strong recommendation,” Murphy and Persichilli said.

As of the week ending July 10, the delta variant made up 74.5 percent of variant cases found in the state over the past four weeks, according to the most recent New Jersey Department of Health surveillance report. Studies so far have reported rates of effectiveness between 87 percent and 95 percent for the Pfizer vaccine against the delta variant, according to an article from NJ Advance Media.

The state’s recommendation follows an update to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking guidelines, which now suggest that fully vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in communities with high or substantial community transmission. These communities in New Jersey include Passaic, Bergen, Essex, Union, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic and Gloucester counties.

Murphy and Persichilli said New Jersey’s COVID-19 metrics are significantly lower than those of many other states, though they may take actions such as another statewide mask mandate if New Jersey reaches similar numbers, according to the release.

The state reported a 26 percent increase in hospitalizations over the past two weeks and an average of approximately 936 cases per day over the past week at briefing on Monday. There are 964 new cases and 485 hospitalizations today, according to the state’s COVID-19 Dashboard.

“The trends we are seeing over the past several days suggest we are not done seeing these numbers continue to rise,” Murphy said on Monday. “Thankfully, because the number of fully vaccinated New Jerseyans is so high, we are relatively hopeful we will not return to where we were even a little more than a couple of months ago.”

There are 5,292,911 fully vaccinated New Jersey residents as of today, according to the state’s COVID-19 Dashboard. Though, Persichilli said Monday that 62 percent of people ages 18 to 29 and only 44 percent of people ages 12 to 17 have at least one vaccine dose.

“We cannot return to where we were in early April when our spring uptick peaked,” Murphy said Monday. “That was with nearly 2,400 in our hospitals and 4,000 cases a day. I beg you. Unless more of you for whatever reason have not been vaccinated step up and receive your doses, these risks will remain.”

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