Students returning to school this fall in New Jersey will be required to wear face masks “at all times” while indoors or on school buses, according to the state Department of Education.
Under newly-revised guidance from the Department of Education (DOE), face coverings are now mandated for New Jersey’s 1.37 million students on school grounds, regardless of social distancing.
Previously, masks had only been required in crowded areas, like hallways, and recommended for use in classrooms. The guidance always required face coverings for teachers, staff and school visitors.
According to the DOE, exceptions will be granted in a few scenarios, such as when mask wearing “would inhibit the student’s health,” if a child has an existing, documented medical condition or a disability.
The requirement is also waived for students under the age of 2, when a student is eating or drinking, during “extreme heat outdoors,” during “high intensity aerobic activities” and during gym and music classes when individuals are in a well-ventilated location and can maintain six feet apart.
Schools ‘Not Immune’
The DOE revised its standard regarding the use of face coverings following new findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show face coverings could reduce the spread of the virus, particularly “when used universally within communities.”
“Not only is the science surrounding face coverings more clear, in terms of the prophylactic value that it has, but our numbers have deteriorated,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during his Aug. 3 COVID-19 briefing. “And a school is not immune to the environment around it.”
The updated guidance also:
- Recommends “face covering breaks” for students and staff throughout the day when social distancing can be maintained and outdoors, or with windows open.
- Tasks families/guardians with supplying masks for students but recommends districts to “provide extra disposable face coverings” for students who may need them, include those who are experiencing financial hardship.
Districts across the state are in the midst of creating plans to reopen for the 2020-21 school year after being closed since mid-March due to the outbreak.
Each district must come up with plans, although the state Department of Education has provided criteria that must be met, including mask-wearing and social distancing. All districts must provide some form of in-person education and can offer fully remote learning options to students who choose to stay home.
On Aug. 3, Murphy said the state DOE is sharing a checklist of items the department will use to ensure a district’s plan meets the guidelines.
That document, Murphy said, “outlines answers to some of the thornier questions that schools have been asking about their reopening plans.”
Numbers Trend Upward
The change in guidance comes as New Jersey’s rate of COVID-19 transmission continues to climb. Murphy also announced the state is tightening the cap on indoor gatherings and will continue to hold off allowing restaurants to offer indoor dining service.
“We remain in a public health emergency,” Murphy said. “Over the last week, we saw numbers of new cases that we hadn’t seen in eight weeks. Our rate of transmission is now more than double where it was a few weeks ago.”
As of Aug. 4, the cumulative number of coronavirus cases in New Jersey reached 182,970 with 416 new cases. Statewide, 11 new deaths were reported. Of the total death count, 13,982 are confirmed COVID-19 fatalities and 1,875 are reported as probable.
New Jersey’s transmission rate – which measures the rate each new case leads to how many additional cases – decreased to 1.41%, down from 1.48% the previous day.