TRENTON — Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday signed an executive order repealing the state's general outdoor masking requirement. But rules about masking in indoor public places remains in place.

The state's outdoor masking policy had called for masks to be worn when social distancing was impossible. The virus is less likely to spread and infect people in open-air spaces.

The CDC this month said that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, a recommendation that has caused some confusion. The CDC guidance does not automatically eliminate local requirements such as New Jersey's executive orders, which means that vaccinated people still must wear a face covering in restaurants, stores and offices.

"We are going to be able to take off our masks indoors in the not so distant future as more and more people complete their vaccination courses. We just can't yet because we need to know unequivocally that doing so will not lead to backslide in our progress," Murphy said Monday.

"We have this virus on the run," he said. "We have been at the epicenter of this pandemic twice. We have crushed the curve twice. We are determined to make sure there is not a third time."

As of Monday, about 3.87 million residents of the state had been fully vaccinated. CDC data shows that about 70% of the state's adult population has already received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Murphy has been cautious and reluctant to completely drop New Jersey's social-distancing and masking mandates even as he announced that he would allow his emergency declaration to expire in June after renewing it monthly since March 2020.

On Monday, he pointed out that White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci cautioned that a premature widespread lifting of indoor mask mandates could cause the virus to reignite.

Murphy also has said that it's unfair to make businesses and retail and restaurant workers responsible for figuring out who is and is not vaccinated. New Jersey does not require people to carry proof vaccination.

"We've gotten as far as we have because we have recognized that the pandemic requires us to be a little bit more selfless and a little less selfish. And this is one of those times," Murphy said.

Republican critics of the governor wasted to time criticizing Murphy's announcement.

"With the CDC clearly stating that masks serve no public health purpose, Pennsylvania, New York and many other states have already lifted restrictions or announced plans to do so this week," state Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, said. "Instead of following the science here in New Jersey, we have a governor who continues to restrict personal freedoms to cater to the irrational fears of a timid liberal constituency.”

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the indoor mask requirement continues to be useful.

"Masks work by being a simple barrier that helps to prevent respiratory droplets that are formed when someone breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes from reaching others. It reduces the chances of both transmitting and catching the coronavirus," she said. "Masks have been shown in studies to reduce the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19."

The governor on Monday said that the indoor masking rule will not be "forever and always."

"We have this thing on the run," he added. "A little bit longer here and we accelerate our ability to drive this virus into the ground."

These NJ towns have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases

Looking at data compiled by the Department of Health in 2019, the most recent year for which reports are available, we determined the rate of STDs for 1,000 people in every municipality. The data combines reports of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. For a different look, you can check out this article for a list of New Jersey towns that saw the highest increase in STD/STI cases in recent years. 

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