(The Center Square) – Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order to extend the state’s public health emergency.
With the signing of Executive Order No. 288, the state’s public health emergency is set to expire in 30 days. Murphy previously said he would let it expire at that time.
The declared emergency allows the state to continue distributing vaccines, collecting COVID-19 data and enforcing vaccination or testing requirements in certain settings. However, Republicans noted the declaration gives Murphy, a Democrat, the power to keep the school mask mandate in effect and release prisoners from the state’s prisons.
“By every metric, New Jersey’s COVID numbers have plummeted to the point that overbearing mandates and executive orders are completely unnecessary,” state Sen. Senator Anthony M. Bucco, R-Boonton, said in a statement. “Governor Murphy should let the Public Health Emergency expire this week and give back the emergency powers and parental rights he has taken from New Jerseyans,” he said.
“There’s no justification to drag this on for another month while children continue to suffer both educationally and emotionally,” Bucco added. “Governor Murphy has ruled through emergency powers for far too long, and he’s taken away parents’ rights over all of their objections. He should give it all back now.”
Additionally, Republicans sounded the alarm on reports that an additional 260 prisoners were scheduled for release on Thursday in line with COVID regulations. They say 40% of the pre-COVID prison population has been released since the pandemic’s start and note leaders in many cities are looking for help combating the uptick in crime.
“As he has done for more than a year, the Governor is using the pandemic as cover for turning criminals loose in New Jersey neighborhoods,” state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Montville, said in a statement. “After announcing plans to lift other COVID restrictions and as statewide numbers continue to improve, he’s ready to run through the cell blocks unlocking doors and letting the bad guys run free to protect them from a relatively benign omicron variant of the virus.”
A spokesperson for Murphy did not immediately respond to a request from The Center Square for comment. Separately, Murphy previously announced the state would end the mask mandate for schools and childcare settings effective March 7.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Kristin M. Corrado, R-Totowa, plans to introduce a pair of bills to ensure students in speech therapy and students with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not mandated to wear masks. If approved, the measure would apply to students in school districts that maintain mask mandates after March 7.