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May 17, 2021

All New Jersey schools expected to fully reopen next fall

The state's outdoor mask mandate and COVID-19 travel advisory are no longer in effect, Gov. Murphy says

The days of remote learning will be a thing of the past for New Jersey students come next school year.

All New Jersey schools will be required to reopen for full-time, in-person instruction next fall, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.

An executive order signed last summer that allowed school districts to provide remote learning options amid the COVID-19 pandemic will expire at the end of the school year, Murphy said. 

While summer school programs will not be impacted, full-time remote learning will no longer be available to students.

"We are facing a much different world than one year ago when we had to begin planning for this school year," Murphy said. "We know much more about this virus and how it spreads. We have much more on-the-ground experience at fighting it and we have a robust vaccination program that now reaches adolescents as young as 12 years old."

Murphy's announcement came after Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, called last week for all schools to resume full-time in-person instruction. 

"We know that’s how kids learn best and that prolonged isolation is harmful," Weingarten said. "The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in school. And my union is all in."

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine was authorized last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for adolescents ages 12-15. Pfizer plans to seek authorization for children ages 2-11 in September. 

State officials have encouraged school districts to implement some in-person learning this academic year, if conditions deem it safe to do so. But Murphy said in March that he expected all school districts to return to in-person learning in the fall.

Murphy's message has been echoed at the federal level too. President Joe Biden repeatedly has urged for schools to fully reopen. 

In February, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance for reopening schools. The guidance identified five essential strategies: face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, sanitation and improving ventilation, and isolation and quarantines. Vaccines were considered an additional layer of prevention.

There have been 281 COVID-19 outbreaks at New Jersey schools during the pandemic, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. They have included 1,263 cases. Roughly 38% of the outbreaks and about one third of the infections have occurred in South Jersey.

New Jersey lifts outdoor mask mandate, travel advisory

New Jersey took two additional steps toward returning to pre-pandemic life by ending its COVID-19 travel advisory and outdoor mask mandate. 

People traveling to New Jersey — and residents residents returning home — no longer need to self-quarantine upon arrival, Murphy said. Residents are encouraged to continue following all COVID-19 health and safety protocols when traveling domestically and abroad.

The state's COVID-19 travel advisory took effect last June as infections surged in other areas of the country. New Jersey relaxed its travel advisory last month so that it no longer applied to fully vaccinated people. 

Face masks are no longer be required in outdoor public spaces under any circumstances, Murphy said. They previously had been required in spaces where social distancing wasn't feasible

Though the CDC said last week that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear face masks in most indoor and outdoor settings, New Jersey will keep its indoor mask mandate in place. 

"While we have made tremendous progress, we are not out of the woods yet," Murphy said. "The majority of New Jerseyans are still unvaccinated, and we're not checking anyone's vaccine status at the door when you go to the supermarket or a hardware store. I don't know how we can expect workers to tell who is vaccinated from who isn't, and it is unfair to put the burden on business owners and front-line employees to police patrons.

"We've gotten as far as we have because we all recognized that the pandemic required us to be a little bit more selfless and a little less selfish, and this is one of those times."

Murphy said the indoor mask mandate will be lifted "in the not-so-distant future" — once more residents are vaccinated. But he said the state "needs more time on the clock" before easing the rule.

"We just can't yet because we need to know unequivocally that doing so will not lead to a backslide in our progress," Murphy said. "We have this virus on the run thanks to the millions of you out there. Remember, we have been at the epicenter of this pandemic twice. We have crushed the curve twice. We are determined to make sure that there is not a third time."

New Jersey is about 82% of the way toward its goal of having 4.7 million adults fully vaccinated by the end of June. Over 8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, and more than 3.86 million residents are fully vaccinated, Murphy said.

The state reported 556 new COVID-19 infections Monday, an 88% drop since early April. The state recorded 827 COVID-19 hospitalizations, a 63% decline. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has dipped below 900 for the first time in six months.

The statewide rate of COVID-19 transmission is now at 0.59.

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