New Jersey Republicans in both houses of the Legislature have criticized the new executive order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy that reinstated indoor mask mandates at schools for the upcoming school year.
“Mandating masks in schools has more negatives than positives,” Republican Assemblyman Brian Bergen said about the measure announced on Friday.
“The governor’s new mandate and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendations are looking at the issue from only one angle,” Bergen said in a statement. “They are not considering the damage to our kid’s emotional well-being. We need to add that element, and when we do, the answer is, ‘No mandatory masking in schools.’ The long-term harm to kids from masking is psychologically enormous and disrupts learning.”
“Experts have raised legitimate concerns that the risks of masking outweigh the potential benefits for children because masking children can negatively impact communication, learning, emotional, and social development,” he added.
Concerns of Government Overreach
Republican Leader of the New Jersey Assembly Jon Bramnick accused the governor of “unilaterally setting new rules and bypassing the state legislature” with his new mask requirement for schools.
“Decisions related to COVID policy continue to be made without any legislative hearings,” Bramnick said in a statement. “My concern focuses on the rights of every citizen to be heard through their legislature with an opportunity to hear from medical experts. We have held many hearings on less serious subjects.
“Democracy requires transparency,” he said.
Murphy’s office declined to comment on Bramnick’s statement.
About a year ago, Bergen, who has been critical of the governor’s unchecked unilateral powers since the beginning of the pandemic, introduced a bill that would make all emergency executive orders expire after 14 days unless granted an extension by the Legislature. The bill was moved six times for a vote but rejected by the Democratic majority in the Assembly.
“Instead, Democrats rushed through a bill codifying Murphy’s ability to use his powers through the end of the year,” Republicans said in statement.
In June, the passage of a bill ended the public health emergency that was declared 17 months ago in response to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic. But the Democrat-led bill extended some of the governor’s pandemic-related powers until 2022. The bill was fast-tracked and passed by the Democrat-majority Legislature without any Republican support.
Republican Assemblymen Hal Wirths said in a statement that local school boards hear students and parents in public meetings saying they have not participated in the decision-making regarding mask requirements for students.
“Local districts are in the best position to make these decisions and they should be allowed to do their job. We know children are the least at risk for this virus and the most at risk for the long-term negative effects on mental health that all these mandates could cause,” Wirths added.
Children Health Concerns
New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, during a press conference about the new measure on Aug. 6, justified the government’s decision to mandate masks on the grounds that there is no COVID-19 vaccine available yet for children under 12.
Dr. Jeanne Craft, President of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also threw her support behind the government during the announcement.
“Here in New Jersey, we have seen a concerning rise in the spread of the virus,” Craft said. “The conditions have changed, the risk is higher, especially for children.”
“Infections are rising. The delta variant of the virus—now the predominant variant spreading—can be transmitted even by vaccinated individuals,” Craft explained.
Craft said that, based on stories she was hearing from her colleagues in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Texas that she believes are reliable, the Delta variant is “causing more severe disease in children and their pediatric ICUs are filling up with children with COVID.”
“That scares me as an ICU doctor,” she said.
“Throughout the pandemic, our goal has always been the safe return to in-person learning, where children thrive academically and socially,” Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, Acting Commissioner of Education, added.
But Republican Senator Steve Oroho pushed back on the policy advice being used by the governor.
“We have heard from experts that masks can do more harm than good for school children. Masks have a definite impact on education and interfere with a student’s ability to communicate effectively in the classroom,” Oroho said in the statement.
“The Delta variant does not change the fact that children are not susceptible to the virus and they don’t spread it,” state Senator Joe Pennacchio also stated, challenging Craft’s views.
“The sad fact is masks inhibit communication in classrooms and obstruct learning. My Republican colleagues and I held a virtual hearing on masks, and we heard from experts who asserted that masks in school are more trouble than they are worth,” Pennacchio continued.
While Craft pointed to recent stories she was hearing from ICUs, a report published by The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association says that children since the beginning of the pandemic have accounted for 14.3 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States.
This percentage has risen slightly to 15 percent for the week ending Aug. 5, the report said.
The percentage of child deaths reported by individual states has not exceeded 0.3 percent of all COVID-19 cases and some states have reported zero child deaths, it said.
The available data indicate that hospitalization and severe illness associated with COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP virus, as well as death, are uncommon in children, the report added.