Mask mandate for schools this fall? Assembly Education chair hints at need

Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Pam Lampitt did not directly say masks should be mandated when students and educators return to school this fall — but she did get close to that line.

Lampitt (D-Voorhees) is believed to be the first elected official to push for a return to mandatory masking — something Gov. Phil Murphy has repeatedly said he wants to avoid.

Lampitt made her statement in response to a growing number of leading health organizations calling for students and staff to continue wearing masks once school starts up again in the fall.

“The most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that masks should be worn indoors in schools by all individuals over the age of 2 who are not fully vaccinated. The American Academy of Pediatrics has gone one step further in recommending that all staff and students over the age of 2 wear masks, regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

“In light of these recommendations, New Jersey schools should, at the very least, consider implementing a mask mandate for all unvaccinated individuals in our school buildings.”

Murphy, as recently as this week, said the state is not ready to make such a mandate.

“We want school to be open full bore, Monday through Friday, as close to normal as we can get it,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “For the time being, we are recommending no masks.”

Murphy also has repeatedly said state officials watch the health metrics closely and that such a mandate could be implemented almost instantly. For now, it is an issue that is being left in the hands of local officials.

“If your circumstances locally suggest or require you to be stricter, you have every right to do so,” he said.

New Jersey announced 803 additional confirmed tests on Friday. The rate of transmission inched higher, to 1.42. It is now much higher than the desired 1.0 or below.

Lampitt, noting the rise in cases, said the state may need to bring back masks to the schools.

“With COVID-19 cases on the rise among unvaccinated residents, requiring masks in schools would be the most prudent way to protect our children and educators during the upcoming school year,” she said. “If there is no meaningful decrease in infections over the next few weeks, New Jersey must be prepared to reinstate masking requirements in our schools.”