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Murphy lifts COVID-19 testing requirements but not vaccine mandates. Here’s why. 8/18/2022 Brent Johnson, Susan K. Livio,
A pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics for seniors at Hoboken Family Pharmacy. © Paul ZImmerman | For/ A pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics for seniors at Hoboken Family Pharmacy.

After Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that New Jersey will no longer require COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated school and child care employees, state workers, and state contractors, only a few major government-imposed coronavirus restrictions remain across the state.

The biggest: Health care workers and employees in congregant settings such as nursing homes and correctional facilities are still required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, including having at least one booster dose. People can be granted religious or health exemptions and be tested routinely instead.

A pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics for seniors at Hoboken Family Pharmacy. © Paul ZImmerman | For/ A pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics for seniors at Hoboken Family Pharmacy.

Murphy lifted the testing requirements after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further loosened federal COVID-19 guidelines last week but did not change the vaccine mandates. That’s even though the CDC does not specifically recommend vaccines for workers in congregant settings.

The governor’s office told NJ Advance Media there are a few reasons why.

The state dropped the testing mandates because the CDC announced routine testing is no longer recommended in most lower-risk settings, such as K-12 schools, said Christie Peace, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office.

But the federal government continues to require health care workers be vaccinated, even though that order is being challenged in court.

In addition, Peace said the CDC “made clear” in its report that congregate settings “continue to present higher risk to people vulnerable to severe illness, which is why vaccination requirements for workers in those environments continue to remain in place.”

“The Administration will continue to review any new information and guidance from public health officials to make responsible, data-driven decisions regarding our state’s COVID-19 policies,” Peace added.

Though they don’t recommend vaccine requirements in congregant settings, the CDC’s guidelines do note that such places are high risk and that screening testing of asymptomatic people might be beneficial there.

Murphy told reporters after an unrelated event in Jersey City on Wednesday that “we feel strongly the policy we have in place has kept people healthier relative to not and it continues to be something we need.”

“We still think that’s the right thing to have in place,” the governor said.

MORE: Murphy ends COVID test mandate for unvaccinated N.J. teachers, child care workers, state workers

Those who don’t comply with the regulations have risked getting fired. There have been numerous lawsuits challenging the mandates in court.

In updating its guidelines, the CDC is now placing the emphasis on individuals protecting themselves against the virus more than 2 1/2 years after the pandemic began. Officials say 95% Americans 16 and older have immunity, either by being vaccinated or having been infected. In addition, case and death numbers aren’t are large as they were in the past.

In addition, the CDC said its recommendations “no longer differentiate” based on a person’s vaccination status because even vaccinated people can catch the virus and those who aren’t vaccinated have “some degree of protection.”

State Sen. Michael Testa, a frequent Republican critic of the Democratic governor, urged Murphy on Tuesday to go one step further and end remaining COVID-19 mandates in the Garden State in the wake of the CDC’s update.

“Monday’s announcement was a start,” Testa said. “Now it is time to lift outdated restrictions that could have been eliminated months ago. The CDC and the science support easing these directives that provide little to no benefit, and residents are frustrated by confusing, inconsistent guidelines.”

But Health Professionals and Allied Employees, a union that represents 14,000 health care workers in New Jersey, praised Murphy for keeping vaccine mandates in place.

“HPAE supports vaccination,” union president Debbie White, a registered nurse, said in a statement to NJ Advance Media. “As a union, we have worked with our employers and our members are either vaccinated or have the necessary exemptions from their employers.”

“COVID continues to evolve and mutate so we must remain vigilant in protecting workers and patients,” White added. “As we’ve said many times, vaccines are an effective tool in slowing the spread of this virus.”

Health experts and officials stress vaccines still provide an extra layer of protection and help prevent serious illness.

“It’s still among us,” Murphy said Tuesday about COVID-19 during his TV show on New 12 New Jersey. “The best defense we’ve got is to get vaccinated and boosted.”

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Brent Johnson may be reached at Follow him at @johnsb01.

Susan K. Livio may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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