By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

Montclair's indoor mask mandate for all public places will end early. Instead of expiring at the end of March, the mandate’s last day will be Feb. 28. 

Councilman Peter Yacobellis — who’d initially presented a resolution introducing the mask mandate in December — presented the new resolution lifting it at the Feb. 23 Township Council meeting, saying that with the number of COVID-19 cases in Montclair rapidly declining, the township can safely sunset the mandate. 

“As the spread of the omicron variant, hospitalizations and deaths have come down dramatically over the last few weeks, I felt it was time to bring our town back in line with the most commonly practiced protocols in our region with regard to masks,” Yacobellis told Montclair Local.

The seven-day average for COVID-19 cases in Montclair as of Feb. 23 was down to 4.71. 

In December, concerned with the spread of COVID-19 the council first mandated masks in all public places until Jan. 21. With the seven-day average of cases in January climbing as high as 143.4, the council voted to extend it until March 31. The township also, at that time, carved out exemptions for athletic activity and performances. 

Gov. Phil Murphy in May lifted a statewide indoor mask mandate, but his Executive Order No. 242 allows counties and municipalities to institute their own.

It is still unknown whether the Montclair School District will lift its own mask mandate, after Gov. Phil Murphy announced schools could end the requirement as of March 9. Montclair Education Association leaders said last week that they were told on Jan. 14 that the mask mandate would stay in place through the school year

Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said at a Board of Education meeting on Feb. 23 that he expected to release a statement on the district’s plans Tuesday, March 1.

Businesses can still require their customers and employees to wear masks.  Masks are still required on federal property and on public transit and while using car services such as Uber. 

“So people should always carry a mask for the circumstances where they are still required and follow the law,” Yacobellis said.

Most business owners contacted by Montclair Local had said they ran into few if any problems with the township’s mask mandate, though there had initially been some points of confusion, such as an open question of whether recreational athletic activity like skating at Clary Anderson Arena was exempt (it was, township officials said). But at least one business — fitness studio Jane Do Montclair — said it was closing because of a series of difficulties in the pandemic, including the mask mandate making people less inclined to come work out.

BID Executive Director Jason Gleason called the decision “reasonable and positive overall for the business community.

“With the repeal, businesses will be able to set and enforce their own policies again. I’m thankful that we are in a significantly better place again with COVID and cautiously optimistic that we will continue to move in the same direction,” he said.