In announcing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for New Jersey teachers and state employees, Gov. Phil Murphy was asked about the attempts of local school boards to circumvent the school face mask mandate.
“I’m aware, including some I noticed in my own backyard,” said Murphy at a press briefing Aug. 23. “I will just say we will not look kindly upon that and we’ll take the appropriate action in response.”
The action came in the executive order expanding the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The vaccine mandate for teachers comes after the Murphy Administration reinstated face masks requirements for students, teachers, staff and all those visiting schools on Aug. 6.
Murphy officials inserted into the order that “individuals seeking a medical exemption from mask wearing pursuant to certain exceptions outlined in Executive Order No. 251 for all public, private, and parochial preschool programs and elementary and secondary schools, including charter and renaissance schools, will be required to produce written documentation from a medical professional to support that exemption. Self-attestations and parental attestations are not sufficient.”
The directive comes in response to school districts that have sent Murphy letters asking to leave the decision up to local towns to decide. Parents opposed to the rule have demanded the school board to take whatever action it can to stop it, with Unmask Our Kids signs a regularly site at meeting and front lawns. But in the past few days, a new camp of parents has emerged to drum up support for mandatory face masks.
School Board Actions
Middletown Board of Education, Murphy’s hometown school district, has backed off on a plan to allow individual exceptions from the state’s school mask mandate. Board members were scheduled to vote on a resolution during an Aug. 24 night meeting but changed their minds after getting word that the state would sue the district if it passed.
Previously, the Wall Township school board noted that it had decided to make masks optional prior to his announcement. And the Manasquan school board has asked the state to let local districts decide the matter after the district made it through last year with a single documented case of in-school COVID transmission.
In North Jersey, the Wayne Board of Education is scheduled to hold a special meeting Aug. 26 to discuss if it should take a stance on the governor’s school mask mandate after trustees at a meeting last week voted to draft a letter to Trenton to request that the mandate be rescinded.
Additionally, with the FDA giving full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, schools are revising their health policies. The Hoboken Public School District announced students 12 and older must show proof of vaccination for COVID-19 for the upcoming school year, or face weekly testing. Students along with staff members in the district that do not have proof of vaccination must undergo weekly tests for COVID onsite every Friday, beginning Sept. 17. Additionally, the district will randomly select a percentage (equaling New Jersey’s positivity rate) of students who are not yet age eligible for vaccinations for weekly COVID testing each week starting on Sept. 17.
Rowan University tightened its student vaccination policy, eliminating an exemption of personal choice. Following the full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by the FDA, Rowan informed students this week that the exemption was being removed. Students who chose the personal declination option have until Sept. 1 to submit a declination form demonstrating a valid religious or medical exemption or until Sept. 7 to submit proof of their first dose. Students who receive the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines must show proof of their second dose by Oct. 7.
The masking, testing and vaccine policy being enacted across the state is what state officials see being needed to ensure a safe, full-time, in-person learning environment for Garden State students, many of whom Murphy has pointed out are not yet eligible for vaccination.
“Scientific data shows that vaccination and testing requirements, coupled with strong masking policies, are the best tools for keeping our schools and communities safe for in-person activities,” said Murphy. “We will continue to work collaboratively with school officials, teachers unions, and public-sector union partners over the next several weeks as this new requirement goes into effect.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 10,946,837 in-state, plus an additional 397,431 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 11,344,268 as of Aug. 25. Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,326,551 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 171,250 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 5,497,801.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,229,421 doses (602,214 fully vaccinated), Essex 935,093 doses (449,805), Hudson 853,355 doses (408,781), Morris 671,428 doses (328,197), Passaic 581,045 doses (279,830), Sussex 157,172 doses (77,735), and Warren 102,099 doses (50,060).
As of Aug. 25, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 941,896 with 1,766 total new PCR cases reported. There were 574 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 138,004. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,079,900.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 21 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 24,074. The state listed probable deaths at 2,722, bringing the overall total to 26,796. State officials noted five deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Aug. 25, Bergen had a total of 165 new confirmed cases and 61 new probable cases, Essex 149 new cases and 34 new probable case, Hudson 97 new cases and 22 new probable cases, Morris 66 new confirmed cases and 33 new probable cases, Passaic 98 new cases and 17 new probable case, Sussex 11 new cases and 17 new probable cases, and Warren 19 new cases and seven new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,759, followed by Bergen at 2,612, Hudson with 2,119, Passaic at 1,753, Morris at 986, Sussex at 245, and Warren County at 217.
In regards to probable deaths reported Aug. 23, Essex has 306, Bergen has 306, Morris has 261, Hudson has 219, Passaic has 203, Sussex has 68 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,116,596 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Aug. 9, 10,123 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 58 COVID-related hospitalizations and 50 COVID-related deaths.
In the last week, breakthroughs accounted for 18.3% of all new cases (1,397 of 7,611), 1.8% of new hospilizations (25 of 608), and none of the 53 deaths—the third week in a row that no death from those fully vaccinated.
As for the rate of transmission reported Aug. 25, it declined to 1.19 from 1.21 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Aug. 20 was 5.2%; by region, the rate was 4.0% in the North, 6.2% in the Central region and 6.7% in the South.
The state reported 1,012 patients were hospitalized, the first time it has reached 1,000 since May 11. By region, there were 372 in the North, 310 in the Central and 330 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 196 are in intensive care units and 92 on ventilators. A total of 122 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 124 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 720 of the cases, broken down between 384 residents and 336 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,610 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 33,191 residents and 22,574 staff, for a total of 55,765.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,454 on Aug. 25. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,897 residents deaths and 144 staff deaths.
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