NJ governor declares ‘huge step back to normal’ as school mask mandates end

(TRENTON, NJ) — The New Jersey governor Monday announced plans to lift the statewide COVID-19 mask requirement on schools in a month due to the rapid easing of the ommicron wave, calling the relocation “a huge step back to normalcy for our children.”

Individual school districts will be free to continue demanding masks once the state mandate expires on March 7, Democratic government leader Phil Murphy said.

New Jersey is one of dozens of states with mask mandates in schools, according to the unbiased National Academy for State Health Policy. New Jersey’s has been around since classes resumed in person in September 2020.
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Murphy called the “dramatic drop in our COVID numbers” when announcing the rollback. The omicron variant spiked infections during the holiday season, but cases in the state have fallen by 50% and hospitalizations have fallen by a third since last week, he said.

Effective March 7, the statewide mask mandate in schools will be lifted.

It is not easy to balance public health with a return to a semblance of normality. But due to the declining COVID numbers and the growth of vaccinations, we can take this step responsibly. https://t.co/CjnIYZycCe

— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) February 7, 2022

Omicron is also losing its grip on most of the rest of the US, prompting hopes among politicians and public health experts that the pandemic is about to enter a new phase where the virus becomes like the flu — an ever-present but manageable threat.

“We’re not — and I’ve said this many times — to control COVID to zero,” Murphy said. “We must learn to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase of this virus.”

Murphy has come under pressure from Republicans and some parents who have held rallies in the state house to demand an end to the mandate. But the governor has so far gained support for the mask rule from the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Read more: It’s time to end compulsory masks in schools

“This is a huge step back to normalcy for our kids,” Murphy said.

In a statement, the union leadership noted that trends show that COVID-19 is moving in the right direction, adding: “It is appropriate for Gov. Murphy to allow local districts to continue to require masks in communities where it makes sense based on local conditions. †

Nationally, new COVID-19 cases per day have fallen by more than half a million since mid-January, when they peaked at more than 800,000. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, cases have declined in 47 states in the past two weeks.

Also, the number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 has fallen 24% since mid-January to about 111,000.

NJ Gov Phil Murphy
Mary Altaffer/AP New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy talks to kids in a pre-K class at the Dr. Charles Smith Early Childhood Center, on September 16, 2021, in Palisades Park, NJ

The number of deaths is still high, averaging more than 2,400 a day, the highest number since last winter, due to a delay between victims becoming infected and dying.

In New Jersey, it’s unclear how much and how soon the state’s more than 600 school districts can end mask-wearing.

In Paterson, the state’s third-largest city, the school system will need time to consult with officials, principals, parents and staff, district spokesman Paul Brubaker said.

Read more: School mask mandates go to court. This is why it’s so complicated

Melissa Alfieri-Collins, a mother of two who disagrees with mask mandates in schools, says she prefers “choice,” calling the governor’s decision good news. But she expressed concern that districts might enforce the mask rules.

“For this reason, parents need an opt-out option for when and if districts do this,” she said.

Stephen White, a 55-year-old father of a 14-year-old son, said that if the lifting of the mandate came into effect immediately, he would not be in favor of it. But in four weeks is a different story.

“By that time, if the rates come down and they can say, ‘OK, kids have been vaccinated’ — if they have a significant number of kids that have been vaccinated — I’ll have no problem with them not wearing a mask at school,” he says. .

Francis Amegah, a 63-year-old with two children in the Newark school district, said the end of the mandate was “far too late.”

“They shouldn’t be wearing masks. If something happens, we can arrange it. The parents should be able to take care of that,” he says.

New Jersey’s health commissioner will develop guidelines for safety in schools.

Republicans claimed responsibility for forcing the governor to end the mandate. Murphy has said he was unaffected by political pressure.

“Governor. Murphy will never admit he is under pressure, but it absolutely is,” said GOP Senate leader Steve Oroho.

 



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