Gov. Phil Murphy has announced the school mask mandate is ending, but it won’t happen until March 7.

During the COVID update in Trenton on Monday, the governor suggested the decision was made to make sure new COVID cases and hospitalizations continue to drop in the coming weeks, while vaccination and booster numbers continue to go up.

He said there is mounting evidence the omicron surge will keep fading and “we are also buoyed by the continued growth in vaccinations and the expectation that the vaccines will be made available to children under the age of 5 in early March.”

Murphy said another reason to wait another month to make masking optional is “early March traditionally means the weather starts to warm up at least a bit, which will give schools a little bit more flexibility to increase ventilation, be more creative with that and further decrease the risk of COVID spread.”

Murphy's decision drew fire from both sides of the masking question — from Republicans who said the mandate should be lifted immediately and from educators and others who worry that the decision is premature.

NJ COVID metrics behind masking decision

Murphy said there is growing optimism that “given the decreased severity of this new variant and the continued increase in vaccinations that we are finally nearing this inflection point, and it will be a huge step back to normalcy for our kids.”

When the governor was asked why the mask mandate was being lifted specifically in four weeks, he said there are a number of variables to consider.

“It’s a combination of cases, hospitalizations, positivity rate, rates of transmission all going dramatically in the right direction, it is trying to project out what those data streams will look like weeks ahead of time," he said.

Learning to live with COVID in NJ

He said we need to realize “we’re not going to manage COVID to zero, we have to learn how to live with COVID, as we move from a pandemic to the endemic phase of this virus.”

New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said her Department “will be developing guidance that incorporates all aspects of safety in schools while the children are unmasked."

She said this guidance will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

Persichilli also noted in the event of a new COVID outbreak it will be important for school districts to work with their local health departments “to determine what preventive measures are best for the children and staff in their school.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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