Murphy: ‘A chance’ of no NJ mask requirement in schools this fall
Schools attended by more than 95% of all students statewide are now open for in-person instruction, Gov. Phil Murphy announced while at Bergenfield High School on Wednesday morning alongside U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.
While the emphasis from Murphy and Cardona was on returning to in-person learning as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, there's been increasing public scrutiny on the remaining mask mandate among students and staff at schools as the year winds down.
“There is a chance,” Murphy said, when asked again about whether the state might lift its requirement for masks in schools after the summer.
The governor said given that COVID vaccinations have just recently begun for those ages 12 to 15, he expects there to still be a mask requirement by September, while also noting that school guidance put out early last summer was revised multiple times heading into the fall.
As of Wednesday, the state was reporting 4.95 million people have received at least one vaccine dose.
Of those, about 1% were between the ages of 12 to 15, who are only eligible via the FDA to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
“I’ll put on my epidemiological hat and say three months from now might as well be five lifetimes in a pandemic, so the answer is absolutely, our minds are open,” Murphy said.
“While I’d like to predict that we’re going to be able to reopen schools in the fall without masks, I’m going to lean on my health expert partners, Dr. Walensky and I talk regularly,” the education secretary said, referring to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, saying they want to, above all, “lead with health and safety.”
Before he was sworn into his new federal post on March 2, Cardona previously served as the Commissioner of Education in Connecticut, where he said he held the same priorities for that state's schools.
There has been building pushback against the state continuing the school mask mandate, despite CDC guidance to continue standing pandemic protocols to finish out this school year.
Against those recommendations, some scattered school districts across several states already have removed the requirement for masks, as reported by ABC News, along with statewide rollbacks of school mask requirements in Texas and Iowa.
As the state rolled back its requirement on masks in indoor public places last week, some school superintendents in the state have urged Murphy to take a more definitive stance against masks being required in the 2021-2022 school year, at least.
There also are Republican lawmakers who have been pushing for an immediate rollback of mask requirements among children, starting with state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic proposing a bill aimed at no masks for summer camps.
Last week, state Senate Republicans launched an online petition for the removal of the mask requirement among children.