Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that fully vaccinated people will not need to wear masks indoors, except under certain circumstances, beginning on Friday, May 28.
The latest news follows previous guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is the latest of many pandemic-related restrictions that have been lifted this month, ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.
People who have not been vaccinated are still encouraged to social distance and wear masks. The state will not require people to show proof of their vaccinations, Murphy announced.
Businesses, though, may still choose to require social distancing and masks, the governor said.
Cape May County officials have been working throughout the pandemic to keep COVID cases as low as possible, while trying to ensure that the county’s businesses can fully reopen safely this year.
Cape May County has had one of the strongest vaccination programs in the state. CDC reports that 64 percent of the county’s adult population is fully vaccinated. The goal is to reach 70 percent by the end of June, according to a county news release.
This is a continuation of efforts that began prior to last summer. Cape May County Commissioner Vice-Director Len Desiderio and Commissioner Will Morey co-chaired the Cape May County Recovery Task Force, which along with business leaders, and local mayors created “A Proposal for the Safe, Thoughtful and Progressive Reopening of Cape May County During the Time of COVID-19” ahead of last summer.
The goal was to open local businesses, but in a safe and responsible way. The Task Force also worked with Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Wieland on the “Safely Together” media campaign, which the county continues to use in messaging. It invited visitors to the Jersey Cape, but with reminders of safety protocols.
“Helping businesses during the reopening last year was some of the most important work I have participated in during my time as a county commissioner,” Desiderio said in the release. “We continue to work as a county to safely reopen. We welcome the news relaxing indoor mask mandates ahead of our unofficial start to summer this weekend. We expect a great summer at the Jersey Cape.”
The Cape May County Department of Health worked closely on these initiatives, while also adding additional layers of support. They provided COVID-19 testing last year, at a time when testing was tough to access. The Department of Health also created the Social Distancing Ambassador program, at the direction of Cape May County Commissioner Director Gerald Thornton and Commissioner Jeff Pierson, who is the liaison to the County’s Department of Health.
The Ambassador program gained national attention and promoted safety protocols through positive reinforcement. They distributed thousands of masks to visitors and residents in Cape May County. To assist with vaccinations, they coordinated with Fare Free Transportation, under the direction of Commissioner Marie Hayes, to ensure people that needed rides to the vaccination clinic could receive one.
Equally as crucial, the county has been working with community partners to reach the homebound, homeless, and other hard to reach communities to bring the vaccination to them. The Department of Health also hosted task force calls with municipal and community partners during the entire pandemic to update them on the latest COVID-19 news.
“The leadership from all of the departments and my colleagues on the Commissioner Board during this time has been amazing,” Thornton said. “I truly believe that our case numbers have been among the lowest and our vaccination rates have been highest because of the hard work that has been done over the past 15 months. I continue to be in daily communication with the governor’s office to advocate for issues impacting Cape May County as we keep pushing to open Safely Together.”
The Cape May County Department of Health’s vaccine clinic has moved from Avalon Community Hall to the Field House at Lower Cape May Regional High School. The clinic will be open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and anyone who wants the vaccine can walk in. Also, to help those who can’t get in during work hours, the clinic will be open from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as from 8 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturdays.
“We are glad to now offer these flexible hours for people to get vaccinated,” Pierson said. “This is another example of how the county government is working to make services more accessible to our residents and ensure we get people vaccinated. I am proud of the work from our Health Officer Kevin Thomas and his entire team at the Cape May County Department of Health, along with our municipal partners that have helped us on-site at our vaccine clinic.”