During yesterday’s press conference, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) announced that the New Jersey Department of Health created a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) dashboard to track virus transmission in school districts by country, as well as the number of cases linked to those outbreaks.
“In creating this we have balanced transparency and public information with protecting the privacy of those in our school communities,” he said. “We knew, as we’ve been saying, going in that there would be positive cases in our schools and our overarching aim remains to ensure that our schools do not themselves become the epicenters of new outbreaks.”
New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said an outbreak is considered to be two or more laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff with onsets within a 14-day period. She said these cases are linked within the school setting, with individuals not sharing a household or being in close contact in another setting during an investigation.
There have been 11 COVID-19 outbreaks due to in-school transmission in 11 different New Jersey schools, she said. Additionally, there have been 43 individual cases linked to these outbreaks.
Cape May County has a total of three outbreaks, according to the dashboard. Burlington and Gloucester County each have two outbreaks, and Bergen, Ocean, Passaic and Sussex County have one outbreak each.
Persichilli said school districts have previously received guidance on how to handle these outbreaks. She said that a school can remain open if there is one confirmed case, but students and staff who have been in close contact with the infected individual must quarantine for a 14-day period.
If there are two or more confirmed cases within a single classroom, the school can remain open and individuals in close contact must quarantine for 14 days, Persichilli said. Local health officials will then make the decision on whether the entire class is considered to be exposed.
Persichilli said that if there are two or more cases within a two-week period linked together by a school activity, local health officials will investigate the outbreak and make recommendations about closing the school. She said school closures should also be considered if there is a significant community outbreak affecting multiple staff members, students and families served by the school.
“There are going to be cases and our core principles continue to be safety, high-quality education and equity,” said Kevin Dehmer, interim commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education. “Here in New Jersey, stafff and students are following social distancing rules: They’re wearing masks, they’re working closely with their local health officials and they're making safety the number one priority.”