New Jersey to require masks in schools as Delta variant spreads, media reports say


FILE PHOTO: A worker prepares materials for vaccination at University Hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey, U.S., December 15, 2020. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz


By Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Friday will announce a requirement that kindergarten through 12th-grade students and staff wear masks when public schools open in the fall, according to media reports, in a reversal of the position he took just last month.

The change of heart reflects a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spurred by the highly contagious Delta variant that is ravaging U.S. states with lower vaccination rates.

Murphy, a Democrat, will make an announcement at 1:15 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) in East Brunswick (NYSE:BC), according to an administration official.

COVID-19 cases rose 105% in New Jersey over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data. Hospitalizations have spiked 92% in the past four weeks, the data shows.

Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reversed course and recommend that all students and staff wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status.

Some of the nation’s largest school districts including New York and Los Angeles have made masks mandatory for the upcoming school year.

The updated guidance has once again inflamed the debate over masks in schools – an issue that has become deeply political – and created a patchwork of policies from state to state, and even town to town.

In Florida, where hospitals are grappling with record numbers of patients ill with coronavirus, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last week blocking mask mandates in the state’s schools.

Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi account for half of the country’s new cases and hospitalizations in the last week, White House officials said earlier this week.

There were 13,427 confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the Sunshine State as of Friday morning, a fresh record high, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The Florida Board of Education held an emergency meeting on Friday during which it adopted an emergency rule that would allow parents to transfer their child to another school “when a student is subjected to harassment in response to a school district’s COVID-19 mitigation protocols.”

Some Florida school districts are keeping mask mandates in place, at least for now, despite the governor’s executive order.

The Broward County Public School Board will meet on Tuesday to decide how to move forward following DeSantis’ order.

Rosalind Osgood, the board’s chairwoman, said she planned to vote to require masks for students and school staff in the county, telling CNN in an interview on Friday: “I’m not willing to take a risk with somebody’s life when we have a deadly pandemic.”


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