Gov. Phil Murphy is planning to announce New Jersey will now require students in grades K-12 to wear masks at the start of the new school year due to the state’s rising COVID-19 numbers, NJ Advance Media has confirmed.
Murphy will unveil the new rules during a public event Friday, said two sources with knowledge of the governor’s plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The governor announced in late June the state was not planning to have a statewide mandate for students and staff to wear masks in the upcoming academic year and would instead leave it up to individual districts to determine their own rules on face coverings. Murphy has been adamant that Garden State schools will resume full day in-person instruction in the fall, with no virtual option.
But the governor has said the mask plans could change if the state coronavirus figures increase.
“I don’t want to go backward — that’s the last thing I want to do — but we’ll do what we have to do,” Murphy said July 22.
It’s unclear how this will affect school lunches when masks must be removed to eat. The governor is scheduled to be at an elementary school in East Brunswick on Friday afternoon for “a major public health announcement,” according to his schedule.
The decision is likely to be a controversial one. Many parents and mask opponents are strongly against masking children in schools. But state Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, who chairs the Senate’s health committee, praised the move.
“This is the right call and safe call, even if it is unpopular with some,” Vitale told NJ Advance Media. “The surge of the delta variant has put us in a position where measures like this must be taken in order to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff alike, while also achieving and learning objectives.”
This also comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last month it’s recommending everyone in K-12 schools in America to wear masks as the delta variant of the virus drives up COVID-19 numbers across the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends face coverings.
The CDC has said masks are necessary because children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated in the U.S.
The agency also reversed course last month and recommended all people, including the fully vaccinated, wear masks indoors again in public places with “high” or “substantial” COVID-19 transmission rates. Of New Jersey’s 21 counties, only Warren doesn’t qualify.
Murphy lifted New Jersey’s indoor mask mandate in May and has stopped short of re-installing one in the wake of the CDC’s recommendations, though the state is “strongly” recommending face coverings in indoor places considered “high risk.” He also said this week all options “are on the table” when it comes to fighting the recent spread.
This all comes as Murphy, a Democrat, is running for a second term in November.
His Republican opponent, former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, is among numerous GOP officials who are against mask mandates.
Opponents of masking in schools argue that children are much less likely to catch severe cases of the virus. But officials stress that children can still pass it to teachers and family members who are more vulnerable.
New Jersey on Thursday reported another 1,345 confirmed coronavirus cases, the most announced in one day in three months, as well as four additional confirmed deaths. The Garden State’s seven-day average for newly confirmed cases is now 1,068, up 35% from a week ago and 367% from a month ago.
Daily COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths remain well below the pandemic’s peaks, which officials say is largely because of the state’s relatively high vaccination rate. But hospitalizations have more than doubled over the last month, with 599 patients on Wednesday night.
Politico NJ was the first to report Murphy’s new school mask policy.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.
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