All six zones in New Jersey are now marked orange — the level at which school districts were told they should consider going to all-virtual learning — but Gov. Phil Murphy reiterated again Monday that he does not think that is a likely scenario.
“I do not anticipate, as a broad, statewide matter, schools are going to close in New Jersey,” he said. “I will be very surprised if they do.”
The main reason: Schools have proven to be safe, he said.
While he has implemented restrictions on sports and gatherings — winter sports, in fact, are now on hold through the end of the year — Murphy said in-school transmission of COVID-19 has been very low this fall, with just 66 outbreaks impacting 269 people.
“That is well within any expected range of reality,” he said.
“So, I have to say, what’s going on outside the building clearly impacts what may be going on inside the building. I worry more about transmission coming from the outside into the school setting. I think you’re seeing the school setting as a general matter, not just in New Jersey, but the school setting as a general matter, to be one of the safer settings.”
Murphy stressed safe does not mean stress-free.
“Bless our educators, our parents, our kids, our administrators,” he said. “This is not a normal school year. And this is not without risk. The question is, ‘Can you do it as safely and responsibly as possible?’”
Murphy said some schools have elected to take a pause.
Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the Department of Health Communicable Disease Service medical director, said the state will provide guidance as needed.
“We do have guidance out there that can help school districts, together with the local health departments, decide what actions to take,” he said.
And, even though Murphy said he feels a school shutdown is unlikely, he notes it always will be a possibility.
“That option has to stay on the table,” he said.
Doing it statewide, however, will not be as easy it was last spring. In fact, Murphy said this is an example of how the state’s more than 500 school districts is a plus, compared with New York City, which has just one.
“At one level, that makes our work a lot more complicated and harder,” he said. “But it’s a blessing, in the sense that you can rifle-shot into a community and assess that particular community or a region, and be very sort of tailor-made in terms of your solution.
“You see this, by the way, in the hybrid versus remote school numbers that are now beginning to shift a little bit back and forth. You see that very reality taking place. And my guess is it’ll stay that way.”