Gov. Murphy announces in-school mask mandate to end on March 7
Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that the school mask mandate that has been in place since 2020 will soon be coming to an end.
In a clear sign that even the governor sees the pandemic becoming more manageable, he ordered the mandate to end on March 7. Each district will still be able to individually decide if its own mandates will stay in place. Students and teachers will also be able to wear masks voluntarily in any district that stops requiring masks.
“This is not a declaration of victory, as much as an acknowledgment that we can responsibly live with this thing,” Murphy said.
“We do not have an entire crystal ball. We don't know where we're going to be in a month,” said Dr. Ed Lifshitz. “It is a reasonable assumption that cases will continue to decline, at least for the near future.”
The move also applies to day cares, and Murphy said he has begun conversations on ending the mask mandate in state buildings.
Murphy still faces criticism from Republicans and parents on why he won't lift the mandate right away and may create further conflict with the state Legislature by extending the public health emergency for another 30 days.
“We know that every parent wants to do what's best for their children. So, there may be parents who want their children to continue wearing masks and we want to respect those decisions as well,” says Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
Murphy and Persichilli said that any school district can choose to keep its own mask mandate in place if they choose.
“A district reserves the right to keep something in place, and secondly, most importantly, an individual based on their own health reserves that right and we cannot stigmatize a decision like that,” Murphy said.
STATE OF OUR SCHOOLS: Back-to-school resources
MORE: Search for a Cure
COVID RESOURCES: COVID-19 vaccine resources and case data
Health officials say that while this is a big step back to normal, it doesn't mean the threat from COVID-19 has entirely passed.
“While it's appropriate to begin to do things like loosening up so people can go on with more normal lives, the virus will not have disappeared. It will still be around,” said Lifshitz.
The New Jersey Education Association reacted to the announcement, and issued a statement that said, “We are encouraged by the data showing a rapid decline of COVID transmission in New Jersey. Because of that, we are cautiously optimistic that the current statewide school mask mandate can be safely relaxed in the near future, assuming current trends continue. As we have said from the beginning of the pandemic, it is critical to follow the data and listen to public health experts when implementing or removing COVID protocols. As of today, that data is trending strongly in the right direction, and we look forward to additional public health guidance supporting the move away from mandatory masking in schools. We urge Gov. Murphy to continue to analyze the data and do whatever is necessary to best protect the health and well-being of students and staff. That includes the possibility of maintaining or re-imposing the mask mandate for schools after March 7 if the data indicate that is the correct course. It is appropriate for Gov. Murphy to allow local districts to continue to require masking in communities where that is prudent based on local conditions. We also urge Gov. Murphy to direct the Department of Health to provide clear guidelines and metrics for local districts to use as they decide whether to continue mandatory masking based on local conditions. In addition, we continue to urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. It is clear that the more people in our school communities who are vaccinated, the safer everyone in those communities will be. That is also the best way to prevent a resurgence of COVID that could result in the need to reinstitute protocols, such as masking, that we are on the verge of being able to move beyond.”
Meanwhile, some New Jersey school districts have already announced if they will continue with masking following the governor’s announcement.
The Bayville School District had previously petitioned the governor to end the mandate. District officials welcomed the news and said that they would be ending the mandate in their schools.
The superintendent said that unmasking will help with communication, student focus and overall emotional health.
The Newark School District says that masking is part of COVID-19 prevention protocols and will be keeping the policy in place.
Paterson School Superintendent Eileen Shafer says that she will consult with all parties impacted and will be making a decision at a later date.