Governor Murphy announced at his COVID-19 briefing on Monday afternoon that the school mask mandate will be lifted on Monday, March 7th, calling it the ‘announcement many of you have been waiting to hear’.
Noting the ‘dramatic decline in COVID numbers’, the mandate will be lifted in all childcare settings in addition to schools.
The public health emergency will be extended later this week, he said, for another 30 days to allow the mask mandate to continue until its lifting.
‘We’re announcing this with plenty of advance notice’ for schools and officials to ‘finalize any steps they need to make in preparation’, with the Governor noting that masks still serve an important purpose as a tool to prevent COVID and should be used in many circumstances.
Individual school districts – and childcare businesses – will still have the ability to maintain and enforce policies within their schools, should ‘community conditions require’. Those who wish to continue masking indoors can freely do say. ‘We will not tolerate anyone being put down by exercising their choice to mask up’, said Murphy.
Pointing to a trend of ‘continued decline’ of COVID metrics, the Governor acknowledged that ‘we’re not going to manage COVID to zero; we have to learn how to live’ with the virus as a day-to-day reality, moving from the pandemic to endemic phase. ‘We are optimistic’ with the decreases that ‘we are nearing the inflection point’.
According to the NJDOH dashboard, the statewide cumulative COVID-19 count stands at 1,843,332 cases and 29,050 confirmed fatalities (and 288,822 probable cases and 2,937 probable fatalities) as of Monday (an increase of 1,490 confirmed cases, 224 probable cases, 15 lab-confirmed fatalities, and 40 hospital-reported fatalities from the previous day). The viral transmission rate is .52. There are 1,910 total hospitalizations, with 360 in intensive care units. There are 6,656,841 people fully vaccinated.
The full release from the Governor’s Office:
TRENTON – Noting the significant decline of statewide COVID-19 metrics, Governor Phil Murphy today announced that masks and facial coverings will no longer be mandated for students, staff, or visitors in schools and childcare centers effective March 7, 2022.
“I must thank the overwhelming majority of students, parents, administrators, educators, and support staffers who have worn their masks without problem or protest since our schools reopened for in-person learning. Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids,” said Governor Murphy. “Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate.”
School districts and childcare facilities can continue to implement universal masking policies after the mandate is lifted in March. Schools that do not impose universal masking should revise their COVID policies to utilize masking among other prevention strategies under certain circumstances. Schools will not be permitted to bar the use of facial coverings by individuals and will be expected to take disciplinary action in instances of bullying should they arise due to an individual’s choice to continue wearing a mask. Prior to the mandate being lifted, the Department of Health will release guidance to help school districts update their policies to align with the risks and unique needs of their setting and student population to ensure safe learning environments.
“The Department will develop guidance that incorporates all aspects of safety in schools while children are unmasked,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “We know that every parent wants to do what’s best for their children.”
Governor Murphy and the Department of Health continue to encourage parents of school-aged children age five and over to vaccinate children against COVID-19.
Governor Murphy will also sign an Executive Order before the Public Health Emergency expires on February 10, 2022 which will extend the Public Health Emergency declared on January 11, 2022 by Executive Order No. 280 for 30 days. The Public Health Emergency allows the state to continue vaccine distribution, vaccination or testing requirements in certain settings, the collection of COVID-19 data, implementation of any applicable recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent or limit the transmission of COVID-19, staffing and resource allocation, and other critical components of the State’s COVID-19 response.
Under the Emergency Health Powers Act, the Public Health Emergency will expire after 30 days, unless renewed. State COVID-19 metrics will be reevaluated at the time of expiration to determine if an extension will be needed.