NJ Mandates Vaccine Or Weekly Testing For Health Care Workers, Prison Staff

New Jersey’s health care workers and staff who work inside corrections facilities will need to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing by September 7th, Governor Phil Murphy announced Monday.

The new mandate is the strongest measure Murphy has taken to clamp down on a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

“The spread of the delta variant and its widespread impacts are no longer something we can look at casually,” Murphy said during a Monday press briefing in Trenton. “Almost every day, we are receiving some new research that shows this variant to be even more contagious and more lethal than previously thought, and we also know that the surest way to end this pandemic is through vaccination.”

Both state and private health care employers are required to abide by the new rules. Those who are not vaccinated can opt for testing once or twice a week. Some hospital networks like RWJ Barnabas have already issued vaccination requirements as a condition of employment and last month fired six unvaccinated employees who did not comply.

On Monday, Murphy stopped short of matching Governor Andrew Cuomo’s earlier announcement in New York, requiring Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers and New York employees of the Port Authority to get a shot or agree to weekly testing. Murphy said he wanted to start with the most vulnerable congregate settings before considering whether to mandate vaccines for all state employees or transit workers.

Last week, after the CDC issued new masking guidance, Murphy also “strongly recommended” masking in crowded or high-risk indoor settings though he didn’t issue a universal masking mandate. According to the CDC, 20 of New Jersey’s 21 counties have rates of transmission high enough to warrant indoor masking. The only exception is Warren County.

More than 5.3 million people who live, work or study in the state have been vaccinated. New Jersey still has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, but COVID-19 cases have trickled upward in the last few weeks, though not to the levels seen during its first and second waves of the pandemic.

Infections in nursing home facilities are up, with 38 active outbreaks this week compared to 18 two weeks ago. Overnight, 91 people were admitted to the hospital, the highest intake since May 19th, state health officials said. There are 540 people in the hospital with a confirmed or suspected case of the coronavirus.

“If we do not see significant increases in vaccination rates among the employees in these settings, we are ready and willing to require all staff to be vaccinated as a condition of their employment,” Murphy said. “Today, the clock starts ticking.”