N.J. Gov. Murphy will lift public health emergency Monday

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy leads the final briefing on the state's response to the pandemic on March 4, 2022 in Trenton, N.J. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy leads the final briefing on the state's response to the pandemic on March 4, 2022 in Trenton, N.J. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. We’re all still trying to figure out how to live with it. What should we know about how you approach the world now? How has the pandemic changed your social life, your work life, your interactions with your neighbors?

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s final briefing Friday on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic did have one major announcement. The public health emergency would be lifted Monday, the same day a statewide mask mandate for schools and day care centers ends.

The mandate was “the big thrust” of the health emergency, according to the governor.

“We sat around and said, ‘You know what, there’s no reason even to go to the 11th of March,’ which is when it would have expired,” the governor said.

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The order lifting the emergency ahead of schedule will allow the state to continue testing and vaccination programs and administer federal aid.

“Please God, for the last time…”

The final briefing, number 257, was like the previous ones. There was an update on cases, hospitalizations and deaths, plus updates from Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli and from State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan, who is also the state’s emergency coordinator.

The trio have been a consistent presence at the briefings. Each of them reflected on the last couple of years and how the state has come a long way from when testing and personal protective equipment like masks were scarce, to a position where an effective vaccine is now in existence.

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy leads the final briefing on the state’s response to the pandemic on March 4, 2022 in Trenton, N.J. (P. Kenneth Burns/WHYY)

“I do think we were caught as a nation flat footed in terms of supply of stuff, whether it’s … an antiviral, monoclonal antibodies, vaccines, testing, PPE, ventilators,” Murphy said.

Persichilli recalled the early days of the pandemic, “we had limited testing capacity and had no alternative care sites to assist hospitals with overflow patients,” she said. “We lacked a centralized data analysis and reporting team, and we had limited dashboard capability [and] we did not have a Department of Health call center.

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The pandemic wasn’t the only emergency that the state experienced over the last two years, Callahan noted.

“We had several natural disasters that hit us at the same time,” he said. “I remember the same week that Ida hit us with both catastrophic flooding and tornadoes in the south, that we were just starting to accept, which would end up being more than 16,000 Afghanistan refugees at [Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.]”

The governor said ending the briefings is the right thing to do as the state transitions from crisis management to living with the virus. He credited residents for following protocols and mandates that were implemented over the last couple of years in getting to this point.

“We have asked so much of each and every New Jerseyan for the past two years,” he said. “You have overwhelmingly delivered.”

The governor said the state will continue to provide updated numbers through the state’s COVID dashboard on a daily basis, including a page for breakthrough cases that will be updated weekly. Some numbers will also be provided on a weekly basis through social media channels.

Another part of the briefing, remembering three people from the state, who lost their lives to the disease. In total, the lives of 646 state residents were remembered during the briefings. The memorials began as the state prevented gatherings as a safety measure.

Murphy, who became choked up when discussing the more than 30,000 lives lost, said he spoke with each and every family of the people he gave tribute to.

“Some calls were lighthearted and we laughed together over happy memories,” he said. “Many were brutal and somber, and we cried together over what have been lost and all are forever in my memory.

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