New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are rekindling the mask debate in New Jersey and around the country. Many have continued to wear a mask, even after Gov. Phil Murphy dropped the mandate at the end of May.

Retail businesses are again weighing whether they will require masks to enter their stores.  Restaurants are, too.  Disney World visitors will be required to mask up again. 

Murphy is strongly urging people to mask up again indoors, regardless of vaccination status, but he stopped short of making it a mandate. He also suggested you mask-up if you are gathering in close contact with others who are not vaccinated and whenever someone's vaccination status is unknown.

The CDC recommends masking up in areas where there is significant COVID transmission, but where would that be in New Jersey?

Using the CDC data that factors in the percentage of new positive tests and the rate of infection per 100,000 people, eight New Jersey counties would qualify covering much of central New Jersey and the shore.

Screenshot of CDC website (Townsquare Media NJ)

Bergen, Burlington, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Middlesex, Ocean, Somerset and Union counties all have what the CDC considers "significant" transmissions of the COVID virus.

Monmouth County is the one listed as having a "high" transmission rate. The CDC would recommend mask wearing indoors and out in most circumstances regardless of vaccine status.

For now, wearing a mask is optional, although Gov. Murphy does have the authority to make it a mandate. A provision in legislation that ended New Jersey's public health emergency does grant Murphy executive authority to reinstate pandemic restrictions if the rate of transmission rises above 1.0 and there is a spike in hospitalizations. The rate is now at 1.51 in New Jersey. There is no clear definition of a "spike in hospitalizations," but there has been a steady increase in admissions over the last few weeks.

Murphy has also not said if he will mandate masks when kids return to school in September. For now, that decision rests with individual districts. The NJEA, the state's largest teachers union, has come out in support of all students and staff masking up in all school buildings.

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