Families in New Jersey will have the option of opting out of in-school learning this year due to concerns caused by the coronavirus.
Gov. Phil Murphy at a press briefing July 20 said guidance from the state’s Department of Education (NJDOE) on the specifics of how parents could decide to keep their kids home for the school year would be announced later in the week.
“There are a lot of moving parts to this,” Murphy said. “We want to get it right. We want to do it responsibly.”
When questioned if the policy pertains to teachers and staff in the schools, Murphy was noncommittal.
“This is going to be focused on kids and parents,” he said.
The first-term Democratic governor said opt-outs would be beneficial to some schools.
“One of the aspirations put forward by educators has been less density in the classrooms and some capacity limits,” said Murphy. “If kids are remote learning, that is indirectly addressing capacity and density in the classroom.”
The announcement comes as a national debate on how schooling should look this fall has heated up in the last week. Colleges and universities in New Jersey have scaled back in-person classes and access to housing on campus.
NJDOE, while offering an over 100-page guideline in June to the over 500 school districts in the state, has left the decision of what model elementary, middle and high schools what to incorporate in New Jersey in the hands of local school officials. Districts are mandated to release their plan a month before school begins this year.
Online access has been an issues for New Jersey’s K-12 schools, as the NJDOE estimated about 230,000 students did not have access to a computer, tablet or internet access to connect with their teacher. Murphy rolled out a $154 million plan July 16 to bridge the digital divide, often affecting communities of color.
In a recently released poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University, 46% of New Jerseyans believe schools should reopen with the appropriate protective measures in place, compared 42% supporting a return to online learning until a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine becomes available.
Least supportive of resuming face-to-face instruction are women (42%), younger adults (35%), and Democrats and Independents (38%). On the other hand, Republicans are the group most supportive of returning to the classroom, with 60% in favor of doing so.
In the last week, President Donald Trump has stated kids should be back in classrooms and has threatened to withhold funding if school districts do not follow his wishes.
One reason Trump cited why it is safe for children to return to the classroom was the death toll in New Jersey for children under 18—two as of July 20.
Murphy noted school reopenings may prove the trickiest step of all.
“We want to respect public health, but we also want to do everything we can to try to recapture that magic of some semblance of in-person education that no state does like New Jersey,” he said.
State officials warned the numbers are expected to increase in the coming days due to reporting issues from over the weekend. It is estimated that about 15,000 tests are missing due to problems receiving data from Quest Diagnostics labs
As of July 20, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 176,963 with 177 new cases and nine new deaths, bringing that total to 13,741. The state probable death count remained at 1,974, bringing the overall total to 15,715.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noted of the nine deaths reported, two of the deaths occurred in the last 24 hours.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 1,838, followed by Bergen at 1,765, Hudson with 1,313, Passaic at 1,081, Morris at 669, Sussex at 158 and Warren with 154.
In regards to probable deaths, Bergen has 268, Essex has 255, Hudson has 185, Passaic 158, Morris 157, Sussex has 37 and Warren has 17.
The daily rate of infections from those tested as of July 16 was 2.8%, down from 3.5% the day before. The state is no longer using serology tests as health officials explained those results show a past presence of the disease as well as a current one. By region, the north tested at 1.4%, the central at 1.4% and the south 3.0%.
As for the rate of transmission, it decreased to 0.90, compared with July 19’s 1.1. Officials have continually cited transmission rate and positivity rate as health data they rely on to track how the coronavirus is being contained in New Jersey, guiding them in determining when restrictions have to be tightened or lifted.
Officials reported 798 patients are hospitalized, with Murphy noting evenly divided between confirmed cases and patients under investigation for having coronavirus. The north tier had 336 patients hospitalized, the central 254 and the south 208.
Of those hospitalized, 146 are in intensive care units and 72 on ventilators, while 43 patients were discharged.
Bergen Tops County Count
Bergen has the most cumulative cases in the state with 20,034, followed by Hudson at 19,263, Essex at 19,121, Passaic at 17,172, Middlesex at 17,168, Union at 16,517, Ocean at 9,956, Monmouth at 9,672, Camden at 7,845, Mercer at 7,828, Morris at 6,967, Burlington at 5,450, Somerset at 5,068, Atlantic at 3,126, Cumberland at 3,079, Gloucester at 2,829, Warren at 1,280, Sussex at 1,250, Hunterdon at 1,100, Salem at 831 and Cape May at 757.
Another 650 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.
The racial breakdown of the record deaths was 54% White, 20% Hispanic, 18% Black, 6% Asian and 2% another race. Murphy has noted the rates in the black and Hispanic communities are running about 50% more than their population in the state.
In regards to the underlying disease of those who have passed, 56% had cardiovascular disease, 45% diabetes, 31% other chronic diseases, 18% neurological conditions, 17% lung diseases, 15% chronic renal disease, 10% cancer and 14% other. Persichilli has stated most cases have multiple underlying conditions which would push the percentage of 100%.
A census of ages for confirmed deaths shows 47% of deaths are of those 80 year old and up, 33% in the range of 65-80, 16% between 50-65 and 5% under the age of 49.
State officials are tracking cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children who in turn test positive for COVID-19. No new cases were reported July 20, with the total remaining at 53 cumulative cases for children ranging in age from 1-18. All have tested positive for COVID-19 or have antibodies in their blood. Two are currently hospitalized. No deaths have been reported from the disease.
Persichilli stated “Black and Hispanic children account for a disproportionately high number” on a national scale. While only a small sample, Persichilli reported the racial breakdown in New Jersey was 39% Hispanic, 34% Black, 16% White, 7% Asian and 5% other.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted currently 413 long-term care facilities are reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 30,664 of the cases, broken down between 20,154 residents and 10,510 staff.
Cumulatively, 578 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 24,527 residents and 12,658 staff, for a total of 37,185 cases.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 6,824 on July 20. The facilities are reporting to the state 6,654 residents deaths and 119 staff deaths.