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New Jersey Revises Social Distancing Rules in Schools

The New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) revised guidance to reduce the social distancing in classrooms mandated due to the coronavirus pandemic that Gov. Phil Murphy hopes will lead to more in-person instruction across the Garden State. 

The updated social distancing guidance comes after the declaration by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that students need to be only three feet apart instead of six feet. If masking and frequent hand washing can be maintained by students, educators, and support staff in a classroom, state officials said full-time, in-person instruction can begin with the new distance between students within that classroom.

According to NJDOH Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, the new separation requirements will apply to all elementary grade levels, across all levels of community transmission risk. For middle and high school grades, the three feet guide applies to those districts in low and moderate risk levels.

Middle, High School Restrictions

In communities where the rate of transmission is listed by NJDOH as “high,” six feet will remain the recommended social distance standard for middle and high schools. According to the state’s coronavirus activity map, middle and high schools that must stick with the six feet social distancing rules included those located in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties.

The rules are stricter for middle and high schools due to the age group having “a higher incidence of transmission than the younger children,” explained Persichilli at a press briefing March 24.

Additionally, all schools, regardless of grade or risk factor, six feet of distance must be maintained in indoor common areas when masking is not an option—most notably when students are eating and drinking in the school cafeteria.

Push for In-Person

The new guidance reinforces Gov. Murphy’s recent call for schools not offering in-person instruction to move quicker in that direction.

“With this guidance being released, now is the time for all of our schools to meaningfully move forward with a return to in-person instruction whether it be full-time or through a hybrid schedule,” said Murphy. 

Of the 811 public-school districts, charter schools, renaissance schools, and schools in New Jersey, 143 are currently open for all-person instruction, serving 96,926 students; 534 are utilizing hybrid instruction for 833,095 students; 44 are using a mix of options across buildings for 121,600 students and 90 schools accounting for 301,856 students are all-remote.

In regards to cases related to in-school transmissions, a total of 205 outbreaks involving 947 cases have been reported, with 17 new outbreaks accounting for 57 cases in the weekly update on March 24. 

For North Jersey, Bergen County has 45 confirmed outbreaks with 181 cases, Passaic County has 12 confirmed outbreaks with 42 cases, Warren has 11 confirmed outbreaks with 28 cases, Sussex has eight confirmed outbreaks with 24 cases, Morris County has five confirmed outbreaks with 34 cases, Hudson County has four confirmed outbreaks with 21 cases, and Essex County with one confirmed outbreak with 92 cases.

Open in September

Questioned if parents will be able to have an option for remote learning in the next academic year, Murphy made his strongest statement yet that all schools in the state will have their doors open in September.

 “As we’re sitting here now, parents will not be able to opt out of their students in-person classes in 2021-2022…we are expecting Monday to Friday, in person, every school, every district,” stated Murphy. 

Daily Data

As of March 24, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 774,100 with 3,227 total new PCR cases reported. There were 1,110 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 103,836. The total number of individual cases for the state is 877,936. Gov. Murphy previously noted there is some unknown overlap due to health officials urging those taking a rapid test to get a PCR test.

As for those that have passed, the state reported 28 new deaths, bringing that total to 21,757. The state listed probable deaths at 2,535, bringing the overall total to 24,292. State officials noted 27 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.  

For North Jersey counties on March 24, Bergen had a total of 407 new confirmed cases and 103 probable cases, Essex 371 new cases and 74 probable cases, Hudson 247 new cases and 97 probable cases, Morris 166 new cases and 83 probable cases, Passaic 185 new cases and 85 probable cases, Sussex 94 new cases and 35 probable cases, and Warren 35 cases and five new probable cases.

There are a total of 415 coronavirus variants being reported in the Garden State. State officials documented 401 cases of the U.K. variant, seven cases of the California variants, six cases of the Brazilian P1 variant, and one case of the South African variant. Additionally, there are 80 cases of the New York variant, considered “of interest” by the CDC.

Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,483, followed by Bergen at 2,416, Hudson at 1,895, Passaic at 1,582, Morris at 928, Sussex at 214 and Warren County at 199.

In regards to probable deaths reported March 24, Bergen has 288, Essex has 284, Morris has 240, Hudson has 199, Passaic has 191, Sussex has 66 and Warren has 25.

State Testing 

As for the rate of transmission, it remained unchanged for a third day in a row at 1.09. The daily rate of infections from those tested as of March 20, was 12.5%; by region, the rate was 12.5% in the North, 13.6% in the Central region and 10.7% in the South. 

Officials reported 2,136 patients were hospitalized; 2,136 cases were confirmed and 126 are under investigation. By region, there were 1,063 in the North, 654 in the Central and 419 in the South.

Of those hospitalized, 430 are in intensive care units and 218 on ventilators. A total of 267 patients were discharged, while 312 were admitted.

Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospilizations, intensive care units, ventilators 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.

Bergen Tops County Count

Bergen has the most confirmed cumulative cases in the state with 77,420, followed by Middlesex at 74,501, Essex at 74,357, Hudson at 70,008, Monmouth at 58,587, Ocean at 57,785, Passaic at 56,504, Union at 53,246, Camden at 42,205, Morris at 36,619, Burlington at 33,413, Mercer at 28,150, Gloucester at 22,762, Atlantic at 21,611, Somerset at 20,867, Cumberland at 12,910, Sussex at 9,189, Warren at 7,309, Hunterdon at 7,198, Salem at 4,584, and Cape May at 4,013.  

In regards to probable cases, Bergen had the most at 10,559, followed by Union at 9,039, Ocean at 8,228, Essex at 7,518, Hudson at 7,065, Monmouth at 6,720, Morris at 6,632, Middlesex at 6,036, Passaic at 5,824, Atlantic at 5,737, Camden at 5,297, Burlington at 5,182, Somerset at 4,832, Cape May at 3,952, Gloucester at 3,371, Cumberland at 2,167, Mercer at 1,892, Sussex at 1,578, Warren at 794, Hunterdon at 697 and Salem 478.

Another 1,042 cases are still under investigation to determine where the person resides.

Long-term Care Facilities

Health officials noted 234 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 8,831 of the cases, broken down between 4,110 residents and 4,721 staff. 

Cumulatively, 1,308 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 32,465 residents and 21,400 staff, for a total of 53,865 cases. 

The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 7,980 on March 24. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,845 residents deaths and 143 staff deaths.

Vaccine Distribution

The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 3,638,002 as of March 24. Of those who have received the vaccine, 2,416,860 residents have received their first dose with 1,289,353 receiving their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose; 49% have been administered the Moderna vaccine, 49% the Pfizer vaccine and 2% the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Demographically, 57% of those vaccinated are women and 43% men. As for ethnicity, 59% are White, 11% unknown, 11% other, 7% Asian, 7% Hispanic and 5% Black. In regards to age of those having received the vaccine, 40% are 65 years old or olders, 28% are between the ages of 50-64, 23% are between the ages of 40-49, and 8% are between the ages of 18-29.  

In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 417,607 doses, Essex 279,313 doses, Morris 271,785 doses, Hudson 184,369 doses, Passaic 162,821 doses, Sussex 57,000 doses, and Warren 36,439 doses. 

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