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Days after it wrapped up an unprecedented 2020-2021 pandemic-ravaged school year, New Jersey plans to outline health and safety guidance for the next one.
Starting with the question top of mind for most families and students, Gov. Phil Murphy said masks will not be mandatory in schools across the state “absent any dramatic change in our situation” while revealing the health and safety guidance for the 2021-2022 school year at his COVID-19 briefing Monday afternoon.
Schools have been a bright spot in terms of exceptionally low COVID rates in New Jersey and in New York across the river, and details on the guidance to come weren’t clear ahead of the scheduled briefing.
He has, however, seemed at least moderately intrigued by a reporter question about segmenting mask rules for high schools, where students are eligible for vaccination, and elementary schools, where students are still too young.
Eligibility could change over the summer, should the FDA expand age guidelines for vaccination. The CDC could also change its guidance. New Jersey has been slower to adopt changes on the mask front than New York has in recent months, though both states’ core viral rates continue to mark record lows.
At this point, the CDC still recommends the “consistent and correct” use of masks for students and staff at schools to prevent viral spread.
The CDC released guidelines on Friday recommending that K-12 schools continue to require face masks for the 2021-2022 school year.
A number of parents expressed frustration with ongoing school mask mandates as this school year waned, citing low in-school transmission rates and overall improvement in the national and local COVID outlooks.
Masks are encouraged but not required at summer camps in the Garden State this year, particularly for unvaccinated campers.
To date, nearly 5 million New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated, though kids age 12 to 15 account for just 3% of all doses administered in the state to date. Kids aged 16 and 17 account for an even lower share (2%) despite earning eligibility sooner.