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Yesterday afternoon at his coronavirus press briefing, Governor Phil Murphy announced that he was considering not renewing the in-school mask mandate when it expires on January 11th, 2022. This expiration would apply only to students ages 12-17 and would be guided by the percentage who have received COVID-19 vaccinations.
It would not apply to younger students, although Murphy said he’d reconsider once a critical mass of 5-11 year-olds, now eligible for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, have completed their immunizations.
Murphy explained that as vaccination rates for older students, ages 12-17, reach an undefined “acceptable zone,” he could see “phasing it in based on the age of the kids — high school, versus middle school versus grammar school. That seems to me to be a sensible way to think about this.”
“I would hope this is the beginning of a process — I can’t tell you exactly when — but that we will be able to get to that place [of not requiring masks in schools] sooner than later,” Murphy said at Monday’s pandemic media briefing. Asked by a reporter if he was forcing parents’ hands with the announcement, he said, “I don’t view that as strong-arming. I view that as factual.”
Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said that currently two-thirds of 12-17 year-olds have been vaccinated, leaving 260,000 unprotected. “We’d like to get all of them vaccinated,” she said. New Jersey public schools enroll 760,000 5-11 year-olds and only 1.2% of them have had the immunizations, which require two doses three weeks apart.
NJ Spotlight reports that 140,000 children under 18 years of age have caught COVID, which comes to 13.5% of the state’s case count. Of those children, 1,600 have been hospitalized and 8 have died. Children are more prone to a COVID complication called multi-system inflammatory syndrome; 136 NJ children have been diagnosed with this reaction since the onset of the pandemic.