Credit: (NJ Spotlight News)
New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persicili

Editor’s note: NJ Spotlight News celebrates the second anniversary of the arrival of COVID-19 in New Jersey, focusing on how the disease has changed our lives and what life looks like now. This story focuses on the possible consequences of lifting the mask mandate and ending the health emergency. You will find all our stories related to the pandemic here.

The COVID-19 health emergency in New Jersey ends Monday, the same day the state lifts the mandate for masks for schools and children’s centers. The end comes almost two years after it was introduced to give the state the flexibility to respond to a pandemic.

But Gov. Phil Murphy said a larger state of emergency – also imposed on March 9, 2020 – would remain, allowing the state to continue testing and vaccination programs against COVID-19 and facilitating the adoption of federal funding for the work.

“And, like the emergency for (Superstorm) Sandy, which most of you probably didn’t know about, remains in effect, maintaining it won’t affect your daily life in even a small sense,” Murphy said Friday. his 257th and that he said this would be his last media briefing on the pandemic. “Like today’s briefing, this action (to end the health emergency) marks the end of this phase of our war against the coronavirus as we make the transition from pandemic to endemic.”

Murphy thanked New Jersey residents for their sacrifices made over the past two years to protect each other, noting that these actions allow the state to move forward. “I know you are exhausted, both mentally and physically, and ready to return to normal life. And to be honest, so are we, ”he said.

Endemic does not mean the end of COVID-19

State Health Commissioner Judy Persicili and her team stressed that endemic does not mean that COVID-19 will disappear; in fact, they said the spikes caused by the new options are likely to continue. The number of new cases and hospitalizations has fallen sharply since its last peak in early January: fewer than 1,500 diagnoses and 700 patients in acute form were registered on Friday. Since the first case was discovered here March 4, 2020nearly 2 million New Jersey residents tested positive for the virus, and more than 30,000 died, including 17 people whose deaths were confirmed Friday.

“Now we have a task to define a new norm, because we expect that COVID-19 will stay with us,” said Peach. “We need to stay vigilant and integrate everything we have learned into our daily practices and processes. We need to stay focused on our most vulnerable people. ” Individuals with weakened immune systems should “be careful. You will be in danger, no doubt, ”she added.

Percikili said the Public Infectious Diseases Service will continue to monitor the spread of COVID-19, as is the case with many other infectious diseases, and data will continue to be posted to public services. coronavirus panel. The team will monitor federal reports on the potential of the health care system and community dissemination, developing new options and virus levels in wastewater, among other subjects of interest.

Individual solutions

Some school systems, including Newark and Camden, have decided to continue the mask requirements for students and adults. But as the state abolishes its mandates, the choice of face masks and public activities will be largely left to local authorities or individuals. Living with COVID-19 means understanding your own risk and recognizing that risk itself is a “multifactorial concept,” said Dr. Tina Tan, a state epidemiologist.

Federal health experts recently unveiled a new one COVID-19 shared tracker, designed to make it easier for non-professionals to assess risk in their county. But Dr. Stanley Weiss, an epidemiologist and professor at Rutgers Medical School in New Jersey and its School of Public Health, worries that the challenge may be too difficult for some residents, especially after a two-year pandemic.

“A lot of people no longer listen and don’t know the nuances of the information and why,” Weiss said, noting that new research points to additional problems associated with long-term COVID.

He has not eased restrictions, but Murphy says a new phase of the pandemic may be approaching

Weiss also fears that picking him up may be too early mandate masks for schools and children’s centers, Murphy’s decision was announced a month earlier, especially among children under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible for the COVID0-19 vaccine. “I would be very concerned about my child under 5 and the potential risk. For older children, ”he continued,“ it’s a numbers game where we’re in a pandemic in terms of the number of new cases. ”

“I am still concerned that the level (of new cases), although it is on a downward trend, is still at a level higher than I am comfortable seeing to weaken all these recommendations,” Weiss said.

Something to worry about

Epidemiologist at Montclair State University Stephanie Silver said she agrees that the number of cases and hospitalizations remain high enough for concern in much of New Jersey. As a result, she encourages people to continue wearing masks inside, especially if the virus is spreading faster. She is also concerned that people in decision-making focus only on their own risk and not on the risks of others.

“I think most people underestimate how many people in their lives are considered more risky and that although we are all tired of fighting this pandemic, the virus remains a public health problem, which means our individual behavior affects our collective risk.” Said Silver. “Yes, we all have to make our own decisions, especially now that requirements and mandates are being repealed, but we are not living in a vacuum and my behavior is affecting the risk of others.”

During a press conference on Friday, Persikili, a longtime nurse, reiterated the need to continue to take precautions – wash your hands, stay home when you are sick, and be especially careful to visit older, more vulnerable family members. She told how many government officials have learned about the virus since March 2020 and how much the reaction has gone since then, and thanked her colleagues and 200,000 state nurses for their tireless efforts at the forefront.

But even in the new, post-pandemic phase, public health authorities have stressed that COVID-19 is still with us.

“Endemic doesn’t mean it’s gone, it doesn’t mean we won’t have any problems with it,” said Dr. Ed Lifshitz, who heads the Infectious Diseases team. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, he said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” and we must continue to be vigilant when it comes to this virus, as well as other things that can come to the pike. “

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