Some NJ school districts are resuming mask requirements as COVID cases surge

Some NJ school districts are resuming mask requirements as COVID cases surge

Some New Jersey schools announced Friday they would again require masks for students and staff as COVID-19 cases in the state have continued to rise over the past month.

The Department of Health’s latest COVID-19 activity map shows five out of six regions at “high” risk for coronavirus activity as of May 7. According to state health guidelines, schools are being asked to require masks if a district enters a high-risk region. Only the southeastern region, including Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, remains at moderate risk.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shifted nine counties in New Jersey to their “high” risk of transmission on Friday. People in high-risk transmission counties are advised to wear masks in public spaces and on public transportation. There are no school-specific recommendations.

New Jersey ended the statewide school mask mandate March 7, although some counties continue to require them while others are now resuming mask requirements.

Metuchen school officials said Friday masks would be required for everyone in school buildings and on buses starting Monday, according to a district announcement.

“This requirement is reconsidered every week. Thank you for your understanding – and for your anticipated cooperation,” Superintendent Vincent Caputo said on social media.

The South Orange-Maplewood School District said masks would be mandatory at Clinton Elementary School and South Mountain Elementary School.

“While the NJDOH and local health officials strongly recommend ‘universal masking’ during high community COVID transmission, as a district we are not initiating a district-wide return to mandatory ‘universal masking.’ This is because the outbreaks identified by our local health authorities have been contained in the respective schools and/or classrooms and the appropriate measures have been taken,” the district said in a statement.

“However, given the increase in outbreaks in our district over the past two weeks and new information from the state, we strongly recommend that all students/staff wear a mask indoors and on the bus. Based on the information we have provided, we leave it up to the parents/staff to make the best decision for themselves and their families and respect the decisions of our students and staff,” the statement said.

Indoor masks would be required in certain settings, including large indoor gatherings, according to the district, which has posted details on its website.

In Montclair, school officials reinstated the mask mandate earlier this month as cases rose.

New Jersey on Friday reported 5,309 confirmed positive tests, the first time it has reported more than 5,000 cases since late January during the winter Omicron surge.

The state’s seven-day average for confirmed positive tests rose to 3,453 on Friday, up 39% from a week ago and 136% from a month ago. That’s the highest seven-day average since Feb. 3, when the statewide school mask mandate was still in place.

Paterson, one of the few school districts that continued to require masking in April after the statewide mandate ended March 7, voted this week to drop its mask mandate beginning Thursday.

Newark, the state’s largest school district, has maintained its mask requirement. East Orange made mask-wearing in schools optional on May 9. New Brunswick rescinded its local school district mandate on May 2.

According to the CDC, the counties classified as “high” are Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Gloucester, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean and Sussex. Eleven counties are in the medium risk category: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic, Salem, Somerset and Union. Warren County is in the medium risk category. Masks are not recommended in the mid and low regions.

Gov. Phil Murphy ended remaining statewide mask mandates for schools and public transportation in March as the spate of omicron cases eased. The governor said last month that he does not anticipate a return to statewide mask rules or other coronavirus-related restrictions.

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Noah Cohen can be contacted at ncohen@njadvancemedia.com.

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