Yesterday the Murphy Administration released new guidelines for mask-wearing in schools as the mask mandate is lifted on March 7th. Some schools have already lifted mandates and some (primarily large urban districts like Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City) intend to maintain mandates. Gov. Murphy framed the new guidance as “suggestions,” with Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli noting that masks “remain an important part of a layered approach against COVID-19 and are recommended in certain circumstances.”
Superintendents’ reactions were mixed, as they have been throughout the pandemic, at the Murphy Administration’s management of Covid-19 protocols in schools. Robert Zywicki of Mt. Olive School District said, “What’s contained in here, I wish we had it last summer. It’s long overdue and a step in the right direction.”
But Freehold Regional High Schools District superintendent Charles Sampson said the latest guidance “was written from a very specific perspective that ignores the reality of where most schools have been for the past several weeks. Most schools in this area have already transitioned toward a more normal routine that does not include most of these recommendations and have not seen any COVID-related issues as a result.”
Here are the “suggestions from the New Jersey Department of Health for K-12 settings and child care programs:
“Providing a healthy and safe environment is key to keeping our children in schools. Our recommendations will continue to guide schools and child care providers in determining which COVID-related policies, including masking, are most appropriate for their students and staff based on their community-specific circumstances. While masks will not be required by the state, they remain an important part of a layered approach against COVID-19 and are recommended in certain circumstances,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Other layered preventions such as vaccination and boosters, physical distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when feeling ill continue to be critically important in disease prevention.”
School districts and school boards, as well as child care centers, should consult with their local health department and school nurses in determining whether a universal masking policy is appropriate for their schools and child care centers. Many factors should be considered when making decisions on masking, including a school or child care center’s ability to maintain physical distancing, screen students for COVID, perform contact tracing, exclude students and staff with COVID-19 or who have been exposed, and maintain adequate ventilation. The vaccination rates of students and staff should also be considered. In addition to school district and child care center policies, staff and parents need to make masking decisions based on their specific situation. Persons who are immunocompromised or at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (or who live with people that are) may choose to continue to wear masks.
During Test to Stay: Students participating in a Test to Stay modified quarantine program should be required to mask.
In addition, masks must be worn by all passengers on buses, including school buses, regardless of vaccination status per the Federal Order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until lifted, the only exception is for children under the age of two, and those who cannot safely wear a mask.
NJDOH launched its Boost NJ2 Week initiative Wednesday, February 23, which runs through Tuesday, March 1, and continues to urge all those who are eligible to get vaccinated or receive a booster dose to ensure the greatest protection against COVID-19. For more information on how to make an appointment visit covid19.nj.gov.