Students getting on New Jersey school buses have the option to not to wear a mask this week.
But Gov. Phil Murphy is urging residents to wait until the school mask mandate ends March 7 when the state lifts the requirement for students and school personnel.
The issue of mask mandates comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidelines for health protocols last week, using “community levels” that take into account the total number of cases, hospital admissions and the number of hospital beds available. The three levels now used by CDC are low, medium, and high.
All Counties Clear
All 21 New Jersey counties currently fall into the low or medium range. Healthy people in these two areas are no longer recommended to wear masks indoors, including in schools. Previously, the agency recommended masks in all schools.
Murphy Administration officials reasoned it did not want to confuse school districts who had just received the state’s new health department guidelines two days prior to the CDC recommendations.
NJ School Rules
“Many districts and childcare centers are still reviewing the guidance released by the Department of Health earlier this week to determine how they will proceed,” said Murphy Spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro Post in a published report. “Changing the date the mandate is lifted would create challenges for districts and childcare centers that have not yet made a final determination about masking in their schools.”
But that explanation was not good enough for State Sen. Joe Pennacchio.
“The CDC is no longer recommending that masks be worn anywhere in New Jersey under new guidance that takes into account local community data,” said Pennacchio (R-26) in a press statement. “If Governor Murphy were truly basing his COVID-19 policies on science, he would follow the CDC’s recommendation and lift the mask mandate today for New Jersey schools and everywhere else.”
Advocating Family Choice
Pennacchio called out “fear-mongering” for those who attempt to make others “never feel safe without a mask regardless of how low the numbers go or what the experts recommend,” citing school districts that will keep local mask mandates in effect until April.
While the Morris County lawmaker recognized that some parents and teachers will continue to have concerns despite the latest guidance, he believes the decision should be made by families.
“While we should respect the personal decisions of those who want to continue masking, their fears shouldn’t be forced upon everyone else, especially our children,” he said.
The cumulative number of confirmed coronavirus cases in New Jersey as of March 1 was 1,873,522 with 873 total new PCR cases. There were 268 probable cases, bringing the cumulative total of antigen tests to 295,109. The total number of individual cases for the state is 2,168,631.
As for those that have passed, the state reported 41 confirmed deaths, bringing that total to 29,983. The state listed probable deaths at 2,968, bringing the overall total to 32,951. State officials noted seven deaths occurred in the last 24 hours of reporting that have not yet been lab confirmed.
For North Jersey counties on March 1, Bergen had a total of 92 new confirmed cases and 45 new probable cases, Essex 71 new cases and 15 new probable case, Hudson 99 new cases and six new probable cases, Morris 43 new confirmed cases and 13 new probable cases, Passaic 44 new cases and seven new probable cases, Sussex 11 new cases and six new probable cases, and Warren six new cases and two new probable cases.
Of the total confirmed deaths in North Jersey, Essex County has the most with 3,258, followed by Bergen at 3,083, Hudson with 2,479, Passaic at 2,117, Morris at 1,216, Sussex at 376, and Warren County at 309.
In regards to probable deaths reported Feb. 28, Bergen has 321, Essex has 311, Morris has 296, Hudson has 221, Passaic has 199, Sussex has 88 and Warren has 27.
As for the rate of transmission reported March 1, it increased to 0.79 from 0.75 the day before. The daily rate of infections from those tested Feb. 23 was 2.5%, the lowest since mid-July 2021; by region, the rate was 2.2% in the North, 2.9% in the Central region and 3.2% in the South.
The state’s dashboard had a count of 777 patients hospitalized as all of the 71 hospitals in the Garden State filed reports March 1. By region, there were 267 in the North, 259 in the Central and 251 in the South. Of those hospitalized, 132 are in intensive care units and 89 on ventilators. A total of 77 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 404 long-term care facilities are currently reporting at least one case of COVID-19, accounting for a total of 22,467 of the cases, broken down between 10,537 residents and 11,930 staff.
Cumulatively, 2,366 long-term care facilities have reported an outbreak infecting 46,911 residents and 37,940 staff, for a total of 84,851.
The state’s official death total will now be reported as those that are lab confirmed, sits at 9,278 on March 11. The facilities are reporting to the state 8,495 residents deaths and 149 staff deaths.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in New Jersey totaled 13,729,121 in-state, plus an additional 562,253 administered out-of-state for a grand total of 14,291,374 as of March 1.
Of those who have received the vaccine, 6,533,813 received their second dose or the one jab Johnson & Johnson dose in state and another 224,490 out of state, bringing those fully vaccinated to 6,758,303. With just under 8.5 million eligible in New Jersey to be vaccinated, 80% are fully vaccinated and 91% have received at least one dose.
State officials reported boosters and third shots of 1,703,430 for Pfizer and 1,327,731 for Moderna. A total of 64,914 New Jerseyans have received their Johnson & Johnson booster shot. Overall, 3,096,075 have received a booster or third shot—54% of the 5.7 million of those eligible have received their booster.
In North Jersey, Bergen County has 715,260 residents fully vaccinated, Essex 583,846, Hudson 521,624, Morris 383,224, Passaic 354,750, Sussex 91,902, and Warren 59,941.
According to the state dashboard with just 58.1% of all New Jersey schools reporting due to Winter break, new student cases totaled 1,505 and new staff cases 389 in the last week as of Feb. 20. Cumulatively, 128,175 cases have been reported— 100,375 students and 27,800 staffers.
In regards to outbreaks related to in-school transmissions as of Feb. 22, the state has tracked 507 school outbreaks and 3,450 cases linked to those outbreaks since the 2021/2022 school year starting Aug. 7, up four outbreaks and 17 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 58 confirmed outbreaks with 331 cases, Morris County has 40 confirmed outbreaks with 246 cases, Essex County has 33 confirmed outbreaks with 232 cases, Passaic County has 22 confirmed outbreaks with 188 cases, Sussex has 34 confirmed outbreaks with 177 cases, Hudson County has 19 confirmed outbreaks with 92 cases and Warren County has two confirmed outbreaks with 15 cases.