Pressure seems to be building on the governor to drop the mask requirement for children attending school next fall.
“I support an immediate end to all mask mandates for children, students, and adults,” said state Senator Mike Doherty (R-23). “As most people are likely aware, the governor announced that his mask restrictions will soon be lifted for adults in many indoor and outdoor settings. Unfortunately, children attending school, daycare, and summer camp are not among those who will be permitted to unmask under Governor Murphy’s latest executive order.
“Governor Murphy even said he expects to maintain mask mandates when children return to school in the fall. When children face little risk from the virus and concerned adults will have had ample opportunity to get vaccinated, that’s utterly ridiculous.
“In some cases, the governor is actually imposing stricter restrictions on children going forward, including those who will attend summer camps, by not updating outdated rules,” he added. “While children have been allowed to play sports, including wrestling, football, and soccer, without masks for months, they will be forced to wear masks while playing outside at camp under old rules in place since last summer. That makes absolutely no sense. That’s why I’m joining as a sponsor of legislation that will be introduced to prohibit requirements that children wear masks at school, daycare, or summer camp.
“Enough is enough, it’s time for everyone, including our kids, to unmask,” Doherty added.
Sure, some of this is purely political, coming from Republicans who long have griped about the state’s pandemic regulations.
But you get the feeling it may be more widespread than that.
The superintendent of schools of the Central Regional District in Ocean County recently wrote a letter asking that the mask mandate be eliminated. He said few children get COVID and that those who do generally have very mild symptoms. And now that many people – teachers included – have been vaccinated, why are masks for kids still needed?
He said removing masks will allow parents to see their children’s smiling faces at graduation.
This issue is popping up as the state’s indoor mask mandate for businesses and stores is set to be eliminated on Friday.
Gov. Phil Murphy said at his briefing today that he hadn’t seen the letter in question.
But he defended keeping the mandate.
He said there is no vaccine at the moment for children under 12. And yes, kids do not get serious cases of the disease, but they still can transmit it to others.
The governor reiterated that he wants to end the mask mandate as soon as possible, but “I can’t say when,” adding that, “We’re just not there yet.”
There can be political danger here for Murphy.
Schools have had a rough year. Many were remote only for most of the 2020-21 school year. Some were hybrid. The usual number of extra-curricular activities were also put on hold.
Murphy’s poll numbers in this election year are still good. Notwithstanding the critics, a majority seem to have accepted state regulations as a needed precaution to combat the virus.
But if school children are still masked next fall, some of that support is bound to evaporate. Keep in mind that next fall will be 18 months since the pandemic began. And also two months before election day.
The governor steadfastly maintains that he’s not thinking about election year politics. That may be, but members of his campaign team have to be thinking about it.
And perhaps for that reason, the governor gave himself some wiggle room.
He said it’s tough to predict on May 26 what schools are going to look like in September.
A bit later, he said handling a mask requirement is pretty easy.
“You can turn your mask mandate on a dime,” he said.
Don’t be surprised if that “turn” happens before September.