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Gov. reinstates public health emergency to respond to Omicron variant

Gov. Phil Murphy has reinstated a public health emergency, effective immediately, to ensure New Jersey is able to respond to the continued threat of COVID-19 and the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

According to a press release posted on the New Jersey Department of Health website, Executive Order No. 280 declares a public health emergency and restates the existing State of Emergency across all 21 counties in New Jersey, allowing state agencies and departments to use state resources to assist the state’s healthcare system and affected communities responding to and recovering from COVID-19 cases.

“COVID-19 remains a significant threat to our state and we must commit every resource available to beating back the wave caused by the Omicron variant,” Murphy was quoted as saying in the press release.

“While we hope to return to a state of normalcy as soon as possible, the step I am taking (on Jan. 11) is a common sense measure that will protect the safety and well-being of all New Jersey residents while allowing state government to respond to the continuing threat COVID-19 poses to our daily lives,” he said.

The public health emergency will allow the state to continue vaccine distribution, vaccination or testing requirements in certain settings, the collection of COVID-19 data, implementation of any applicable recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent or limit the transmission of COVID-19, staffing and resource allocation, and other critical components of the state’s COVID-19 response, according to the press release.

The new public health emergency will allow for existing orders requiring masking in school and daycare settings to remain in effect.

Murphy’s public health emergency declaration also empowers all state agencies to take all appropriate steps to continue to address the public health hazard resulting from new variants of COVID-19, according to the press release.

Under the Emergency Health Powers Act, the public health emergency will expire after 30 days, unless it is renewed. State COVID-19 metrics will be re-evaluated at the time of expiration to determine if an extension will be needed, according to the Department of Health.

In announcing his decision, Murphy said, “This is what (the declaration of a public health emergency) does not mean. It does not mean any new universal mandates or passports. It does not mean lockdowns. It does not mean any business restrictions or gathering limits. It does not mean going backward from any of the progress we have made together over the past 22 months.

“What it does mean is that we can continue moving forward with our coordinated and responsible approach to putting Omicron and COVID behind us. It means keeping our schools, businesses and communities open. It means we will be able to move vaccination and testing resources more easily to the places they need to be and to the residents who need them,” Murphy said.

State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) responded to Murphy’s declaration of a public health emergency by stating, “As we have learned over the past two years, the Governor has an astonishing amount of power under state law once (he declares) a state of emergency or a public health emergency.

“The (Governor) can shut down schools and businesses, force people to stay home and mandate compliance with an unimaginable breadth of orders and directives that impact all facets of life. … Many New Jerseyans agree it’s simply too much power for one person to wield.”

In a press release, O’Scanlon said this “unfettered authority provides no incentive for an ambitious governor to give up the broad power that comes with emergency declarations to set policy without oversight or to seek compromise on important matters with legislators.”

O’Scanlon said he is drafting legislation that requires states of emergency and public health emergencies to expire unless the Legislature votes to approve an extension at certain intervals that are to be determined.

If an emergency declaration is not affirmatively extended by the Legislature, the Governor would be prohibited from issuing another declaration for the same emergency or that has a substantially similar effect, according to the press release.

 

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