The mask mandates for New Jersey students, school personnel, school visitors and childcare settings will be dropped starting March 7.
At his weekly COVID-19 press briefing, Murphy said the rescinding of the requirement of wearing a face mask comes as key health metrics continue to move to better places after a Winter surge.
“Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate,” said Murphy. “Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids.”
The governor said the month-long time period is to allow for all parties to prepare for the change. State officials noted school districts and childcare facilities can continue to implement universal masking policies after the mandate is lifted in March and schools that do not impose universal masking should revise their COVID policies to utilize masking among other prevention strategies under certain circumstances.
“Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy. But we can responsibly take this step due to declining COVID numbers and growth in vaccinations,” said Murphy.
Masks Still Allowed
Schools will not be permitted to bar the use of facial coverings by individuals and will be expected to take disciplinary action in instances of bullying should they arise due to an individual’s choice to continue wearing a mask.
“We expect schools will take swift disciplinary action for those that may try to demean or bully anyone who chooses to wear a mask. We will not tolerate anyone being put down for exercising their choice to mask up,” said Murphy.
Prior to the mandate being lifted, the New Jersey Department of Health will release guidance to help school districts update their policies to align with the risks and unique needs of their setting and student population to ensure safe learning environments.
Stepping Away from CDC Guidance
“The department will develop guidance that incorporates all aspects of safety in schools while children are unmasked,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, who continued to encourage parents of school-aged children aged five and over to vaccinate children against COVID-19. “We know that every parent wants to do what’s best for their children.”
When questioned why the state is stepping away from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance that continues to recommend masking in schools, Murphy argued that New Jersey’s “reality is dramatically different” than other states because it was hit hard early by omicron.
“This is being done because we believe it is the right, responsible thing to do in New Jersey,” he said. “This is a big step.”
Additionally, Murphy said he will sign an executive order on Feb. 10 extending the Public Health Emergency for 30 days. The governor said this is being done to allow the state to continue vaccine distribution, vaccination or testing requirements in certain settings, the collection of COVID-19 data, implementation of any applicable recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent or limit the transmission of COVID-19, staffing and resource allocation, and other critical components of the state’s COVID-19 response.
The governor said the actions being taken was the latest step in New Jerseyans learning to live with COVID.
“We are not going to manage COVID to zero. We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase of this virus,” Murphy stated. “We are optimistic that given the decreased severity of this new variant, and the continued increase in vaccinations, that we are finally nearing this inflection point.”
The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey as of Feb. 7 was 1,843,332 with 1,490 total new PCR cases. There were 224 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 288,822. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,132,154.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 15 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 29,050. The state listed probable deaths at 2,937, bringing the overall total to 31,987. State officials noted 40 deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on Feb. 7, Bergen had a total of 113 new confirmed cases and 33 new probable cases, Essex 82 new cases and eight new probable case, Hudson 76 new cases and four new probable cases, Morris 82 new confirmed cases and 14 new probable cases, Passaic 75 new cases and two new probable cases, Sussex 25 new cases and four new probable cases, and Warren 22 new cases and one new probable case.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,183, followed by Bergen at 3,020, Hudson with 2,421, Passaic at 2,054, Morris at 1,191, Sussex at 358, and Warren County at 293.
In regards to probable deaths reported Feb. 7, Bergen has 321, Essex has 310, Morris has 284, Hudson has 223, Passaic has 203, Sussex has 82 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported Feb. 7, it declined to 0.52 from 0.54 a day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Feb. 3 was 6.8%; by region, the rate was 5.0% in the North, 8.0% in the Central region and 9.2% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 1,910 patients hospitalized as 69 of the 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports Feb. 7. By region, there were 722 in the North, 661 in the Central and 527 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 360 are in intensive care units and 239 on ventilators. A total of 266 patients were discharged in the last 24 hour reporting period.
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 562 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 26,638 of the cases, broken down between 12,216 residents and 14,422 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,357 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 46,080 residents and 37,473 staff, for a total of 83,553.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 9,099 on Feb. 7. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,449 residents deaths and 149 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,531,332 in-state, plus an additional 552,281 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,083,613 as of Feb. 7.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,435,695 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 221,146 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,656,841. A total of 76% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in New Jersey and 90% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,524,286 for Pfizer and 1,263,370 for Moderna. A total of 60,522 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 2,848,178 have received a booster or third shot. Overall, 51% of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 706,586 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 572,080, Hudson 512,522, Morris 379,346, Passaic 348,152, Sussex 90,917, and Warren 59,107.
According to the state dashboard with 63.6% of all New Jersey schools reporting, new student cases totaled 6,457 and new staff cases 1,536 in the last week as of Jan. 30. Cumulatively, 130,820 cases have been reported— 102,237 students and 28,583 staffers.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Jan. 26, the state has tracked 465 school outbreaks and 3,138 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up 33 outbreaks and 455 cases from the week previous.
Outbreaks are defined as three or more laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14 day period, linked within the school setting, do not share a household, and were not identified as close contacts of each other in another setting during standard case investigation or contact tracing.
For North Jersey in the new report, Bergen County has 54 confirmed outbreaks with 296 cases, Morris County has 36 confirmed outbreaks with 220 cases, Essex County has 28 confirmed outbreaks with 208 cases, Sussex has 33 confirmed outbreaks with 179 cases, Passaic County has 21 confirmed outbreaks with 178 cases, Hudson County has 18 confirmed outbreaks with 89 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 15 cases.