School mask mandate to be lifted March 7

Gov. Murphy, despite better numbers, will again extend statewide public health emergency

Gov. Phil Murphy, citing a “dramatic” drop in COVID-19 cases, announced Monday that the state will lift the universal school mask mandate — effective March 7.

Murphy, however, made it clear that individual districts, schools or child care facilities have the right to maintain mask requirements as they see fit. He also noted that individual students or staff are allowed to continue masking — and that all steps should be taken to ensure those who do are not bullied or demeaned in any way.

Although many past COVID announcements have been effective immediately, Murphy said the state is giving schools four weeks’ lead time to ensure that the mandate is not being lifted too quickly — and to give schools an opportunity to “determine how this will impact them and to finalize any steps they may need to make in preparation.”

Because of the four-week delay, Murphy said he would extend the public health emergency by 30 days to allow for this mask mandate “to continue until then and then be responsibly lifted,” he said.

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said the Department of Health will develop guidance that incorporates all aspects of safety in schools while children are unmasked.

Murphy said the time has come to lift the mandate.

“Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids,” he said. “Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate.”

The state’s COVID-19 metrics continue to drop dramatically over the past week. A look:

  • Cases: 1,714 (down from 3,521);
  • Those in intensive care units: 360 (from 505);
  • Those on ventilators: 239 (from 430);
  • Positivity rate: 6.76% (down from 11.51%);
  • Rate of transmission: 0.52 (down from 0.55).