Back-to-school shopping lists will now include face masks for New Jersey students and teachers after Gov. Phil Murphy announced they will be mandated for the beginning of the upcoming school year.
Students, educators, staff, and visitors will be required to wear face masks indoors for the start of the 2021-2022 school year, according to the executive order from Murphy announced on Aug. 6. The rule will apply to the indoor premises of all public, private, and parochial preschool, elementary, and secondary school buildings, with limited exceptions.
“While this announcement doesn’t give any of us or me great pleasure…it is the one we need to make right now,” said Murphy at a press briefing at East Brunswick’s Memorial Elementary School. “I know that by taking this precaution we can keep our schools open while also keeping our children safe. We will continue to closely monitor the science and data and will lift this mandate when we can do so safely.”
“The health and safety of our kids is among if not the most sacred responsibility,” Murphy continued. “There are issues that must remain above politics and this is one of them. Anyone telling you that we can safely reopen our schools without requiring a mask is quite simply lying to you. Because we can’t.”
Murphy noted in recent weeks both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) called for students to wear masks due to the increasing prevalence of the Delta coronavirus variant, the ineligibility of those under 12 for vaccination, and a rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases.
The governor stressed the move was made in order to make sure students are in the classroom fully this year and avoid the disruption that remote learning as well as school closures due to outbreaks caused the last two school years.
“We understand that students learn best in a classroom setting and remain committed to having our schools open for full-time, in-person instruction this Fall,” said Murphy. “Absent this requirement, (school closures) is where we will end up.”
While masks will be required in school buildings, exceptions include:
- When doing so would inhibit the individual’s health, such as when the individual is exposed to extreme heat indoors; has trouble breathing; or unable to remove a face covering without assistance;
- When a student’s documented medical condition or disability, as reflected in an Individualized Education Program precludes use of a face covering;
- When the individual is under two years of age;
- When an individual is engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking or playing an instrument;
- When a student is participating in high-intensity physical activities during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all other individuals; and
- When wearing a face covering creates an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.
Murphy noted the move comes after the CDC recently recommended universal indoor masking for all those in schools, regardless of vaccination status, while emphasizing that children should return to full-time in-person learning in the Fall with layered prevention strategies in place, such as masking in indoor settings.
In his executive order, Murphy cited AAP emphasizing universal masking in schools is needed because a significant portion of the student population, specifically individuals under the age of 12, is not yet eligible to receive a vaccine.
“Here in New Jersey we have seen a concerning rise in viral spread,” said Dr. Jeanne Craft, President of the New Jersey Chapter of the AAP. “The conditions have changed, the risk is higher, especially for children. We need to move forward with an abundance of caution. We have come so far, but we need to continue to rely on scientific evidence and expert advice to keep children, teachers, school staff and communities as safe as possible.”
According to the governor’s office, the move has the support of New Jersey Parent Teacher Association, New Jersey Schools Boards Association, New Jersey State School Nurses Association, New Jersey Association of School Administrators and the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s teachers union.
“This step is not taken with any amount of pleasure but we have to take it,” stated Murphy. “This is a simple step that both kids and adults can take that meaningfully pushes back against the transmission of this virus and against this variant.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 10,584,547 in-state, plus an additional 384,042 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 10,968,589 as of Aug. 6. Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,175,321 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 166,195 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 5,341,516.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,196,813 doses (587,328 fully vaccinated), Essex 898,156 doses (433,800), Hudson 822,430 doses (394,848), Morris 656,781 doses (321,285), Passaic 556,899 doses (269,581), Sussex 153,270 doses (75,960), and Warren 99,196 doses (48,721).
As of Aug. 6, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 913,845 with 1,249 total new PCR cases reported. There were 480 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 132,669. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,046,514.
As for those that have passed, the state reported seven confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 23,917. The state listed probable deaths at 2,719, bringing the overall total to 26,636. State officials noted one death occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that has not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Aug. 6, Bergen had a total of 145 new confirmed cases and 46 new probable cases, Essex 93 new cases and 21 new probable case, Hudson 76 new cases and 37 new probable cases, Morris 48 new confirmed cases and 34 new probable cases, Passaic 76 new cases and 21 new probable case, Sussex 15 new cases and three new probable cases, and Warren 15 new cases and four new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,740, followed by Bergen at 2,604, Hudson with 2,101, Passaic at 1,747, Morris at 986, Sussex at 241, and Warren County at 216.
In regards to probable deaths reported Aug. 3, Essex has 305, Bergen has 303, Morris has 260, Hudson has 218, Passaic has 203, Sussex has 68 and Warren has 26.
Of the 4,909,743 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of July 19, 6,381 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 195 COVID-related hospitalizations and 50 COVID-related deaths.
As for the rate of transmission reported Aug. 6, it remained unchanged for the third straight day at 1.37. The daily rate of infections from those tested Aug. 1 was 5.6%; by region, the rate was 5.1% in the North, 6.2% in the Central region and 5.7% in the South.
Officials reported 619 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 249 in the North, 205 in the Central and 165 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 105 are in intensive care units and 48 on ventilators. A total of 78 patients were discharged.
Officials have continually cited transmission rate, hospitalizations, 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.
Long-term Care Facilities
Health officials noted 49 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 200 of the cases, broken down between 108 residents and 92 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,536 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 32,904 residents and 22,321 staff, for a total of 55,225.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,067 on Aug. 6. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,882 residents deaths and 144 staff deaths.