Students, teachers, and staff in New Jersey’s K-12 school will be required to wear face coverings when the fall semester begins, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday afternoon.
“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,” said Murphy at an elementary school in Middlesex County. “While this announcement gives us no pleasure, I know that by taking this precaution we can keep our schools open while also keeping our children safe.”
The announcement contrasts with Murphy’s position in mid-July, when he said it should be left up to individual districts to decide whether to require masks, and that it would take a “wholesale deterioration in health data” for him to order them statewide.
There are a few exceptions to the mask rule, according to the governor’s office, including when someone has medical conditions or disabilities that make wearing a mask dangerous, when performing rigorous activity in a physical education class, and when eating or drinking or playing an instrument.
Murphy, whose position is up for election this November, accused those who question the necessity of masks in schools of “lying.”
“Anyone who says we can safely reopen our schools without masks is quite simply lying to you,” he said, while more than 100 parents, students, and community members rallied against the move outside the school, crying “My child, my choice!”
As of Friday, the Garden State’s health department reported 1,249 new confirmed cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, up 36 percent from a week ago and over 400 percent from a month ago. The Murphy administration attributes the rise in cases to the so-called Delta variant’s high transmissibility and the fact that there are still more than 30 percent of residents who remain unvaccinated.
“We will continue to closely monitor the science and data and will lift this mandate when we can do so safely,” Murphy added. “I urge those who are eligible for vaccination but have yet to be vaccinated to act and help move our state in the right direction.”
Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican challenger seeking to unseat Murphy, called the mask requirement “bewildering,” arguing that it should be the parents’ choice to have their children mask up.
“The science is clear: nearly all children who contract COVID-19 are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic and wearing masks for children is terrible for their social and emotional development,” Ciattarelli said in a statement.
“Bottom line, whether a child wears a mask should be decided by parents, not government,” he said. “If someone wants to have their child wear a mask, they should feel free to do so, but it’s not something that should be forced on children, nor should their learning be inhibited in any way.”