NJ’s vaccine-or-test mandate begins, with legal challenge and vendor problem Murphy says state will ‘sort out’

New Jersey

HOBOKEN, NJ — Monday was the deadline for all school workers and all state government employees in the Garden State to be vaccinated against COVID-19, or to get tested for the virus at least once a week, but some of the workers for whom the mandate applies filed a lawsuit against the state over the issue.

There was also a problem with a vendor being able to provide promised COVID tests. Gov. Phil Murphy said that the state is on top of the situation, overall.

At the Wallace School, a public elementary in Hoboken, some parents who spoke with PIX11 News said that they were pleased that the mandate is in place at facilities where children, too young to be eligible for a vaccine, are all day.

“I am a little bit nervous that the little ones haven’t been vaccinated yet,” Gita Ruchandani said, after picking up her pre-K child.  “But I hear that most of the teachers have gotten their vaccine.”

In Hoboken, 96% of school employees are vaccinated, and weekly testing has occurred since the beginning of the school year, according to superintendent Christine Johnson.

Still, said parents Peter and Akiko Barry, there’s no such thing as an overabundance of caution.  

“It’s because the two young guys aren’t vaccinated,” Peter Barry said, after picking up his 4-year-old son from school, while he and his wife pushed their two-month-old in a stroller.  “If we didn’t have that component, I think we’d be a lot more open.”

They were among a variety of parents who spoke with PIX11 News who said that the mandate gave them peace of mind.  However, one key component of it — the weekly testing of unvaccinated employees — could end up being compromised.  

“We did have a vendor issue,” Gov. Murphy said at his Monday COVID briefing, in response to a question about the situation.  “And my guess is it’s gonna take the next few weeks to sort that out.”

A vendor contracted to provide some of the weekly tests apparently had supply issues. State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said that the state has an  adequate supply for now. 

The get-vaccinated or get-tested mandate also applies to all state employees. Not all of them are back at work yet, however. The governor said on Monday that they’ll be phased in, and that for some state employees, working from home remains an option.   

Still, Murphy said that he expects state workers to get vaccinated.

He said that, for unvaccinated employees, “the testing piece is not enforced until they come back in person.”

Some of the state employees filed a federal lawsuit on Monday saying that the mandate violates their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment privacy rights.

“When you’ve got a vaccination mandate with a testing option, and in schools, everyone is required to wear a mask… I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” Gov. Murphy said.

“I won’t comment about any of these suits,” he continued, “but that at least conceptually would be my answer.” 

The lawsuit does show that opposition to a be-vaccinated-or-be-tested mandate exists.  

It could be a political issue, with Election Day in the governor’s race just over two weeks away.  Murphy faces Republican Jack Ciattarelli in the Nov. 2 contest.

John Wisniewski, a former New Jersey legislator and political analyst, provided  insight.

“When you have the big seat, as the governor does,” Wisniewskisaid, “people will question your motives, no matter how charitable your goals are.”

Gov. Murphy said that compliance numbers for the mandate are “incomplete” at this point, but that more information should be available after the first day of the mandate is over.

“It just makes sense to require people who are providing a public service to be vaccinated,” Wisniewski said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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