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Citing Dr. Fauci, New Jersey governor won't lift mask mandate

Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The state of New Jersey will not lift its indoor mask mandate despite new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says it's safe for vaccinated people to stop wearing face coverings indoors and outdoors.

"We will keep our indoor mask mandate in place in public settings as we continue to work toward our vaccination goals," Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said in a tweet thread Friday. "To be clear, we're making incredible progress, but we're not there yet."

The CDC on Thursday issued new guidance telling Americans who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 that they no longer need to wear masks or social distance because they have been immunized from the virus.

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,'' CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.''

In response, at least 10 states immediately adjusted their mask mandates, including Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.

But though New Jersey is "top ten in vaccinations" and "top five in lowest case count," Gov. Murphy said the indoor mask mandate will remain in place because White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said there's a chance infections could increase if states stop requiring face coverings.

"Dr. Fauci himself said yesterday that he thinks lifting indoor mask mandates at this time could lead to a rise in infections," Murphy said. "So we're not going to let up for the next few weeks as we keep pushing forward on our statewide vaccination goals."

Murphy is referring to comments Fauci made on CNN Thursday during the first interview he gave after the CDC issued its new guidelines.

Host Jake Tapper asked Fauci if local and state governments should drop their mask mandates for people who are fully vaccinated.

"Well, for people who were vaccinated, that's another story. But the problem they're going to find, Jake, from a public health standpoint, since you can't completely validate that someone's vaccinated except depending upon them telling you that if you drop the mask mandate, then you might have an increase in infection among those who are not vaccinated," Fauci replied. "So that's the kind of dicey situation that you're in when you're trying to deal about policy at the local level when you have a high degree of transmission. That's not an easy decision to make."

Fauci reiterated to Tapper that the federal government will not mandate so-called "vaccine passports" — a requirement that vaccinated Americans show proof they've gotten their shots before being allowed to go out in public without masks or social distancing. He did predict, however, that some private businesses may choose to adopt a similar policy requiring some form of proof of vaccination before servicing customers.

If they don't, "you're going to be depending on people being honest enough to say whether they were vaccinated or not and responsible enough to be wearing a vaccine -- excuse me, a mask, not only for their own protection, but also for the protection of others," Fauci said.

New York, like New Jersey, will not immediately lift its mask mandates, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announcing the state will review "the facts and the science" before implementing the CDC's new recommendations.

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