TOMS RIVER — Following a spike this week in the number of students and staff under quarantine for possible COVID-19, the school district clarified that most students in the district wore masks the first eight days of the school year.

The district's COVID-19 dashboard on Thursday reported that 791 students or nearly 6% of the district's nearly 15,500 enrollment are quarantined, down from 864 on Wednesday.

However, 18 students who were quarantined tested positive for COVID, bringing the cumulative total of positive cases to 235.

Among employees, 26 or just over 1% of all staffers are quarantined.

The dashboard does not break down the numbers by school.

Reports that the school year began "mask optional," implying they were not required at all, are "misleading and unfounded," according to district spokesman Michael Kenny.

The district used the "excessive heat" exemption in Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order for the first eight days of the school year that allowed masks to be optional indoors in certain sections of certain buildings.

Since Sept. 20, masks have been required at all times indoors.

Kenny told New Jersey 101.5 that of the 19 buildings in the district, eight are fully air-conditioned. The other 11 buildings have air conditioning in certain wings or classrooms while the rest are awaiting upgrades. The areas of those buildings without air conditioning was where masking was optional for the first seven days of the school year when outside temperatures climbed into the 80s.

“The optional only applied to being in those spaces especially on the second floor of buildings when it’s really hot and it's very humid. It can feel like it is 90 degrees,” Kenny said. “In our communication with families we had always maintained that we still strongly recommend masks but in those non-air conditioned spaces there was an option to remove the mask.”

The Ocean County Health Department is aware of the numbers in the Toms River district but spokesman Dan Regenye told New Jersey 101.5 it's very similar to what happened in 2020.

“These are kids who tested positive who are a student at Toms River schools not that a transmission occurred within the schools. It’s two totally separate things,” Regenye said.

He also said that four towns besides Toms River send their students to district schools: Beachwood, Pine Beach and South Toms River.

"When you’re looking at the number in proportion to other stuff that’s going on I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary with other areas of the county, school or non-school," Regenye said.

According to the state, 60% of people in Toms River ages 12 and over are vaccinated. In South Toms River, that figure is 44%. In Beachwood it's 56%. And Pine Beach is 66%.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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