It was a year ago at this time when the push was on to increase the capacity limits at restaurants and bars to help those establishments survive and with Covid numbers heading in a positive direction at that point.

New Jersey was lagging behind other states in getting to that point.

While capacity limits were eventually restored, an often debated topic has run the course of the pandemic in New Jersey: transparency from the Murphy administration over the science used to determine dates.

In February of 2021, Monmouth County State Senator Declan O'Scanlon told Townsquare Media News: "in contrast to other states, which have made their metrics much more public, which have put down on paper what needs to happen to move from one phase to the next of reopening, with projections of when they hope that would happen -- New Jersey hasn't done any of that. It's been a mess, and that's been a problem and a consistent complaint that I've had and other people have had," O'Scanlon said. "This 'golly, gee-willikers, we hope, we're not there yet, but maybe someday', it just doesn't, it's not a big help at all."

The trend continued on Monday when Governor Phil Murphy announced that the school mask mandate would be lifted in New Jersey come Monday, March 7, giving school districts the choice to lift it and when.

Murphy said that the reasons why Monday, March 7 was chosen as the date to lift the masks in schools are to give more time for people to get vaccinations and other science data that indicated health metrics would be in a safe enough place to lift the mandate.

“It’s a combination of cases, hospitalizations, positivity rate, rates of transmission all going dramatically in the right direction, it is trying to project out what those data streams will look like weeks ahead of time," Murphy said.

There were many on Monday and many others still this week, particularly on the Republican side of the Senate and Assembly in New Jersey that question the science behind the metrics leading to a Monday, March 7 selection.

"Why is this taking so long? I'm unsure as to why March 7 is the magical date being reported out there. I'm unclear as to what that needs to be the date. I think, like everything else, Murphy has been quick to put restrictions on the people of this state but is slow to ease those restrictions," Vicky Flynn, Monmouth County Assemblywoman (R-13), told Townsquare Media News on Monday. "I wish he would consider, maybe, making it mask optional immediately."

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Then Ocean County 10th District State Senator Jim Holzapfel (R) and Assemblymen Greg McGuckin (R-10) and John Catalano (R-10), also question the timing, the date, and wonder why the mandate can't just be lifted now.

“This is just more foot-dragging by the Administration. It is impossible to fathom the Governor’s reluctance to free school kids from the masks immediately,” Senator Holzapfel said in a statement. “Why the delay for another month? Stop playing around. It has been a year and a half, and residents don’t want to wait until March 7 to get their parental rights back. Give It Back now!”

Assemblyman McGuckin, Assemblyman Catalano, as well as State Senator Anthony Bucco (R-25), would like to see the school mask mandate get lifted sooner than later but also were taken aback by Governor Murphy extending the public health emergency for another 30-days before it was set to expire this week, as positive Covid case numbers have been declining for the last couple of weeks.

“There’s no reason to drag out the emergency. The COVID numbers have been improving significantly every day,” Assemblyman McGuckin said in a statement. “New Jersey has been smothered by Murphy’s emergency powers for too long. Let it expire and the mask mandate would terminate, too. The power grab should end. Give It Back!”

“This has gone on for far too long,” Assemblyman Catalano said in a statement. “We have reached the point of diminishing returns, and the Governor should understand his reign as health dictator has run its course. He has taken too much from New Jersey residents and it’s time to Give It Back.”

Holzapfel, McGuckin, and Catalano also previously introduced legislation, (S-126/A-1632) that would prohibit requiring students to wear face masks in schools and on school buses, but prior to that, last summer, they introduced an initial version of the bills, (S-3879/A-5830), to make mask-wearing optional, at the discretion of the student’s parent.

Senator Bucco echoes similar sentiments in a statement this week as well asking for the emergency to end and to give back those emergency powers and parental rights to New Jerseyans, as well.

“By every metric, New Jersey’s COVID numbers have plummeted to the point that overbearing mandates and executive orders are completely unnecessary,” Bucco said in a statement. “Governor Murphy should let the Public Health Emergency expire this week and give back the emergency powers and parental rights he has taken from New Jerseyans. There’s no justification to drag this on for another month while children continue to suffer both educationally and emotionally. Governor Murphy has ruled through emergency powers for far too long, and he’s taken away parents’ rights over all of their objections. He should give it all back now.”

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State Senator Michael Testa (R-1), who spoke to Townsquare Media News recently on how the Covid-19 pandemic has been handled in New Jersey and what needs to happen next, is calling for an end to the emergency powers as well and questioning the science of the metrics.

This week, Senator Testa points to a story posted by the New York Times breaking down mask policies in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere.

“Governor Murphy insisted his decision to lift school mask mandates was influenced by nothing but public health data,” Testa said in a statement. “In truth, his announcement was driven by concerns over polling data and growing public outrage over his mandates as he prepares to run for president. Anyone who continues to think Governor Murphy isn’t playing politics with the pandemic is delusional.”

Senator Testa also feels there may be more political games going on than just in New Jersey from Governor Murphy with whispers and rumors of a potential presidential run.

He points to a story from this week that reported Daniel Bryan, who is a senior staffer, who will be leaving the administration and running a new political advocacy group with First Lady Tammy Murphy.

“Republicans in New Jersey have spent the past two years talking with people impacted by Governor Murphy’s pandemic policies and holding public hearings where his mandates and harm they cause was repeated to us over and over again,” Testa said in a statement. “The governor, meanwhile, has been completely out of touch and stuck in a liberal echo chamber where no amount of mandates, restrictions, and virtue signaling was too much. It’s only now that he’s considering a presidential run that Governor Murphy actually cares what people think.”

Previous reporting by David Matthau was used in this article.

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