As the first week of school begins, Murphy Administration officials are leaving it to the discretion of teachers and local school districts when it comes to a face mask loophole regarding high temperatures.
At least three school districts have advised parents that mask mandates will not be enforced when the school doors open. The Lacey Township, Toms River and Wall school districts have invoked the exemption to the mask mandate for “extreme heat” that the Murphy Administration inserted in their guidance for the 2021/22 school year.
“We have been very clear that they have the right to do that,” said Gov. Phil Murphy at a press briefing on Sept. 8. “But please don’t play games with this, that is not part of the program.”
Face Mask Mandate
The governor reiterated the carve out was not to be used to get around the face mask mandate for students, teachers and staff. Students, educators, staff, and visitors are 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 applies to the indoor premises of all public, private, and parochial preschool, elementary, and secondary school buildings, with limited exceptions.
The governor has 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.
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“(We) just want to make sure this excessive heat carve out is real,” said Murphy. “I think it has been fairly straightforward that certain communities—not many—were reasonable but quite vocal (against) the masking.”
Both Murphy and New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli would not commit to a hard number of when districts should invoke the carve out for excessive heat, leaving it up to school districts to make the decision.
“It’s really hard to put a number on what the temperature has to be,” said Persichilli. “We do know that kids become very uncomfortable as we all do with masks on when it becomes really hot and humid. We are just going to have to trust that the teachers make the right decision for their students.”
Enforce Other Health Protocols
The commissioner noted that if students are permitted to remove their masks off, school officials are to focus on other health protocols such as washing hands more frequently, maintaining social distancing, opening windows to keep ventilation up, and moving classes outside.
One school system attempting to offer an outdoor escape is the Fair Lawn School District. The Bergen County town has set up 32 tents at its 10 schools and high school for outdoor lunch to allow students to get mask-free fresh air during the day. Two additional tents are available for outdoor classes, with principals working with the teachers to determine a schedule for outdoor classrooms so that everyone can get a chance to use them.
Persichilli commented that school officials should “do whatever you can to keep the kids safe if they are going to take off their masks.”
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 11,251,735 in-state, plus an additional 412,366 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 11,664,101 as of Sept. 8. Of those who have received the vaccine, 5,478,038 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 177,766 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 5,655,804.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has delivered 1,261,410 doses (616,288 fully vaccinated), Essex 970,921 doses (465,701), Hudson 880,884 doses (422,522), Morris 686,456 doses (334,380), Passaic 603,361 doses (290,769), Sussex 161,084 doses (79,701), and Warren 104,829 doses (51,346).
As of Sept. 8, the cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey was 965,265 with 3,079 total new PCR cases reported as a backlog of tests from Tuesday resulted in a spike in the number of new cases. There were 647 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 143,026. The total number of individual cases for the state is 1,108,291.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 31 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 24,258. The state listed probable deaths at 2,749, bringing the overall total to 27,007. State officials noted 14 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Sept. 8, Bergen had a total of 282 new confirmed cases and 39 new probable cases, Essex 213 new cases and 43 new probable case, Hudson 172 new cases and 33 new probable cases, Morris 117 new confirmed cases and 52 new probable cases, Passaic 101 new cases and 32 new probable cases, Sussex 33 new cases and eight new probable cases, and Warren 34 new cases and six new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 2,785, followed by Bergen at 2,620, Hudson with 2,132, Passaic at 1,764, Morris at 995, Sussex at 245, and Warren County at 219.
In regards to probable deaths reported Sept. 6, Essex has 309, Bergen has 304, Morris has 262, Hudson has 222, Passaic has 204, Sussex has 68 and Warren has 26.
Of the 5,232,378 fully vaccinated individuals studied as of Aug. 23, 14,813 New Jersey residents have tested positive for COVID who were fully vaccinated, resulting in 356 COVID-related hospitalizations and 80 COVID-related deaths.
For the the week of Aug. 16-23, breakthroughs accounted for 16.9% of all new cases (2,007 of 11,871), 4.5% of new hospilizations (44 of 978), and two of the 66 deaths—the first week deaths were reported from those fully vaccinated.
As for the rate of transmission reported Sept. 8, it remained at 1.04 for a third consecutive day. The daily rate of infections from those tested Sept. 4 was 7.9%; by region, the rate was 6.4% in the North, 9.5% in the Central region and 9.6% in the South.
The state reported 1,186 patients were hospitalized; by region, there were 409 in the North, 377 in the Central and 400 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 270 are in intensive care units and 128 on ventilators. A total of 91 patients were discharged.
Officials have continually cited the 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 153 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 1,037 of the cases, broken down between 567 residents and 470 staff.
Cumulatively, 1,667 long-term care facilities reported a case infecting 33,414 residents and 22,741 staff, for a total of 56,155.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 8,482 on Sept. 8. The facilities are reporting to the state 7,922 residents deaths and 145 staff deaths.