New Jersey Ending School Mask Mandate in March

New Jersey is lifting its public-school mask mandate on March 7, a move Governor Murphy says signals a return to "normalcy."

Children wearing face masks in school
Governor Murphy is dropping New Jersey's school mask mandate on March 7. Photo by Shutterstock

New Jersey is lifting its school and childcare-center mask mandate on March 7, a move Governor Murphy says signals a return to “normalcy” for the state.

“Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy,” the governor tweeted on Monday, February 7, announcing the news. “But we can responsibly take this step due to declining Covid numbers and growth in vaccinations.”

School mask mandates for students, teachers, other staff members and visitors have been in effect since September 2020 when public institutions reopened. Teachers in New Jersey must be vaccinated or get regular testing, though student vaccinations are not required.

Although there will no longer be a statewide rule, school districts can still opt to require face coverings. Schools cannot ban students from wearing masks, 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,” according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Murphy and the state’s Department of Health noted that they encourage parents of children ages five and up to get vaccinated.

The issue of masks in schools has sparked heated debate in the Garden State—and Murphy’s announcement fueled a social media explosion on both sides of the argument. “As a student, thank you for finally ending this. I don’t like a lot of your policies, but this was the right choice to make. Cases are dropping across the state and so are hospitalizations,” one person tweeted. Another called the lift a “terrible idea,” while another wrote, “We will never go back to ‘some semblance of normalcy’ so this notion needs to stop. There is a new normal, get used to it. Stopping Covid precautions is just going to keep Covid around longer, but I guess there’s no evidence in the last 2 years to support that.”

Although Covid cases and hospitalizations increased in November and December with the omicron variant, the numbers have recently decreased for new positive Covid tests and patients, reported. Student and school staff numbers had been up in the weeks before and after winter break.

Governor Murphy is also set to extend the state’s Public Health Emergency, which expires on February 10, 2022 and was declared on January 11, 2022, for an extra 30 days. This allows New Jersey to continue measures such as vaccine distribution, implementing vaccination or testing requirements in certain settings, and allowing for the collection of COVID-19 data. The state will decide if another extension is required after the 30 days runs out.

The New York Times first reported that Murphy would drop the mask mandate.

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