By TALIA WIENER
Essex County is among the areas where there’s “substantial” transmission of novel coronavirus — making it one of the areas where the Centers for Disease Control now urges everyone to wear masks while in indoor public spaces.
And Gov. Phil Murphy Wednesday urged all state residents to wear masks in indoor settings where there’s increased risk, including any crowded indoor space or place where there could be close contact with unvaccinated individuals. The governor had not instituted a new mask mandate as of Wednesday.
Essex is one of seven counties in New Jersey where, as of Wednesday, COVID-19 community transmission was considered substantial, according county ratings the CDC updates daily. The other counties identified as having substantial transmission include Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Middlesex, Ocean and Union. Monmouth is the sole New Jersey county identified as having a high transmission.
Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli, making their recommendation to wear masks, also advised mask-wearing when in a setting where the vaccine status of other individuals in the setting is unknown, or where an individual is immunocompromised or at increased risk for severe disease.
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“We have crushed this virus repeatedly like no other state in the nation, and we are proud to boast among the country’s highest vaccination rates,” Murphy and Persichilli said in a press release from the governor’s office. “But at this point, given where our metrics are now, we feel the best course of action is to strongly encourage every New Jerseyan, and every visitor to our state, to take personal responsibility and mask up indoors when prudent.”
Murphy and Persichilli encouraged unvaccinated residents and visitors to get vaccinated, and said vaccines “are the surest way we can end this pandemic.” If infection rates increase, they said further steps may be taken by the state.
“We reserve the right to take more drastic action, including a statewide mask mandate,” Murphy and Persichilli said in the press release.
CDC guidelines released Tuesday also recommend mask-wearing for everyone at K-12 schools, including adults, again regardless of vaccine status.
Montclair public schools’ policy currently requires mask-wearing in schools and will refer to Essex County guidelines for students and staff in the fall, Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said at the Monday Board of Education meeting.
“We are aware that there may be a mask mandate that comes down,” Ponds said at the meeting. “Please be prepared for that if it happens.”
Despite changes in mask policy, the district will have all students back for in-person learning in the fall, “five days a week, six hours a day,” Ponds said on Monday.
“For me, this is not a political decision, it is a medical decision,” Ponds said at the meeting. “If our doctors tell us we need to have a mask mandate, we will have one.”
As of Tuesday, Montclair was up to 2,746 total cases — 26 over the past seven days. The township releases its coronavirus counts late each afternoon. In early to mid-June, the township was seeing only about 1 to 4 cases added to the total over any given seven-day period.
The growth comes amid several factors, including the increasing prevalence of the ultra-infectious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
Statewide, New Jersey’s rate of transmission Wednesday was 1.51. Anything over 1.0 indicated increasing spread of the virus.
Montclair has made better-than-average progress on vaccinations. As of Wednesday, 70% of Montclair residents of any age and 84% of those 18 and over were fully vaccinated, according to state data. That’s well ahead of the state overall, where 57% of people were fully vaccinated.
Also in Montclair, 92% of people over age 18 had received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Montclair counted its most recent coronavirus death, its 73rd, on April 30.