Murphy lifts mask mandate in stores, restaurants — but businesses can continue policy if they choose

Governor is clear: There are many places where facial coverings will continue to be rule

As expected, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that the indoor mask policy — for fully vaccinated people — will be lifted as of Friday. As will the 6-foot social distancing requirement.

Both executive orders mean businesses — particularly those in the hard-hit retail, hospitality and personal care spaces — can operate as they did pre-pandemic.

If they choose to.

Murphy was quick to say Monday that businesses may continue to have mask-wearing policies — and that customers will have to follow them.

“Individual businesses and other entities which oversee indoor spaces may continue to require that their employees and customers or guests wear face masks,” he said. “We ask that you be respectful in adhering to these requirements where they do apply.”

He said businesses that cater to children under 12 — particularly day care centers — must continue to follow indoor masking.

And, he said, businesses are not allowed to have events where all patrons must go without a mask.

Simply put, Murphy said those who want to continue to wear a mask, should continue to do so.

“If you feel more comfortable wearing your facemask when shopping or waiting for your table at a restaurant, by all means, you may continue to do so,” he said. “No one should mistake lifting the indoor mask mandate as meaning you cannot wear a mask indoors. You certainly may. There is nothing wrong with being cautious when it comes to your own health and that of your family and community.

“To be equally sure, we will not tolerate anyone being demeaned or bullied or excluded for wanting to continue to mask up. We don’t want to hear about mask-free shopping hours and not allowing people in who do wear a mask.”

Overall, the orders are great for business — and meet some of the requests the business community has been making for some time.

Particularly the 6-foot rule, which goes away Friday at all indoor and outdoor settings.

“This includes businesses such as restaurants and retail spaces, personal care businesses, gyms and recreational and entertainment businesses, such as casinos,” Murphy said.

The state also will be lifting the 6-foot distancing requirement for religious services, political activities, weddings, funerals, memorial services and performances.

In addition, starting Friday, dance floors at bars and restaurants may reopen — and the state will lift the requirements that individuals remain seated while ordering.

But, while most of Murphy’s executive orders during the pandemic have been regulations and requirements no one could change, the mask-free mandate comes with a lot of stipulations and exceptions.

Murphy said indoor workplaces that are not open to the general public are to follow their existing health and safety protocols.

He also said there are spaces where masking will continue to be required, including health care settings and long-term care facilities. And Murphy said you must remain masked while you’re on an airplane, a bus or a train or other forms of public transportation — and at a transportation hub, such as an airport or a train station.

Murphy said the mask requirement will continue in public-facing state offices, such as when you’re visiting the Motor Vehicle Commission agency, he said.

And, like the mask mandate, businesses are allowed to maintain the 6-foot social distancing rule if they want.

“We fully expect that many will do so initially to ensure the comfort of their customers,” he said.