NJ school mask mandates/testing return as COVID cases rise
With state health officials reporting a sharp rise in the number of new COVID cases, school officials are beginning to take action to prevent an outbreak among students and staff.
Passaic Public Schools have announced the return of a mask mandate for all K-12 school buildings.
In a letter to parents, Superintendent Sandra Diodonet informed them of the mandate effective Wednesday, Dec 21. Face coverings are required on all school property. Students will also have to mask-up on school busses.
COVID maps from the New Jersey Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list Passaic and nine other New Jersey Counties are having a high rate of community transmission.
Bergen, Cumberland, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Somerset, Union and Warren Counties are also listed as having a "high" rate of COVID in the community.
None of the districts in those counties have announced a new mask mandate.
Hunterdon County is listed as having "moderate" COVID activity, but school officials in Clinton Township are urging students to get tested and to wear a mask when they return from winter break.
A letter to parents noted an "an increase in the number of respiratory illnesses," including COVID.
"Next week is when many of us will travel. This will increase our exposure to those outside of our daily interactions," the letter reads, "We are asking that you continue to remain vigilant about not allowing your student to come to school if they have any signs of illness."
Clinton Township Public Schools Director of Special Services Jennifer Paccione urges parents to test their children for COVID before returning to school in January and is offering free testing kits.
Paccione is also "strongly recommending masking for at least the following two weeks after the Winter break.
"This is not a requirement," Paccione writes, "But, again, speaks to the overall health of our school community, including students and staff."
Will there be more mandates?
Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the statewide school mask mandate in March. At the time, he left it up to individual districts to decide policy going forward.
Even with the state reporting elevated COVID activity as well as high rates of infection from influenza and RSV, Murphy says he does not envision imposing a new statewide mask mandate.
When asked about it last week, Murphy acknowledged such a mandate would not be received well by most New Jersey residents, but said he reserves the right to change his mind.
Eric Scott is the senior political director and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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