Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed an executive order today announcing the requirement for all students, faculty, staff and visitors to wear face masks in indoor school settings, ranging from pre-K through 12th grade, for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year amid rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, according to a press release.
This mandate is the state's latest COVID-19 prevention measure, following an announcement on Monday that all workers in specific state and private health care facilities, as well as other high-risk settings, must be fully vaccinated or get tested at minimum one to two times per week.
The school mask mandate is effective this Monday and comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have encouraged students to wear masks given the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant, according to the release. Vaccines not yet being approved for those younger than 12 years old as well as the rise in pediatric cases also played a role in this decision.
“We understand that students learn best in a classroom setting and remain committed to having our schools open for full-time, in-person instruction this fall,” Murphy said. “I know that by taking this precaution we can keep our schools open while also keeping our children safe. We will continue to closely monitor the science and data and will lift this mandate when we can do so safely.”
Masks will be mandated in indoor settings across all public, private and parochial school buildings from preschool through secondary school, according to the release. Limited exceptions will be available and will remain the same from the 2020-2021 school year.
Some of the eight exceptions include if masking is a threat to one’s health, if an individual is engaging in high-intensity physical activity and if an individual has to perform an activity that cannot be done while wearing a mask, such as eating or drinking, according to the release.
“Given the delta variant’s high transmissibility and the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available for children (younger than) 12, we must use all the prevention strategies we have to protect children in classrooms this fall,” said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Children should wear masks, physically distance, wash their hands frequently, stay home when they’re sick, get tested when they have symptoms and get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.”
In regard to the healthcare worker vaccine requirement, facilities involved in this requirement have until Sept. 7 to ensure all employees fully comply with the vaccine mandate, according to the release. If employees do not do so by this time, a COVID-19 testing program is required to be put in place for those workers.
“We are taking this step today because it has been proven time and time again that vaccines save lives and are our way out of this pandemic,” Murphy said. “Individuals in health care facilities should have confidence in their caretakers, and this measure will help ensure peace of mind for those in higher-risk settings. And we are prepared to consider additional measures if we do not see a satisfactory increase in vaccination uptake in those settings as this new requirement is put into effect.”