New Jersey Gov. Ends School Mask Mandate: Moving ‘From a Pandemic to an Endemic Phase of This Virus’

Pressure from conservatives and declining COVID cases drive gov.’s decision.

QUICK FACTS:
  • New Jersey’s governor announced plans Monday to lift the statewide mask requirement in schools a month from now because of the rapid easing of COVID-19′s Omicron surge, calling the move “a huge step back to normalcy for our kids,” The Associated Press reports.
  • Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said that individual school districts will be free to continue requiring masks once the state mandate ends March 7.
  • Gov. Murphy had been facing pressure from Republicans and parents who’ve held protest rallies at the statehouse demanding an end to the mandate. Republicans claimed responsibility for pushing the governor to end the mandate, though Murphy has said he wasn’t swayed by political pressure. “Gov. Murphy will never admit that the pressure is getting to him, but it absolutely is,” GOP Senate Leader Steve Oroho said.
  • Melissa Alfieri-Collins, a mother of two who disagrees with mask mandates in schools, saying she prefers “choice,” called the governor’s decision good news. But she raised concern that districts might keep mask rules in place.
  • “For this reason, parents need an opt-out option for when and if districts do this,” she said.
  • Francis Amegah, a 63-year-old with two children in the Newark school district, said the end of the mandate is “well overdue,” according to AP.
  • “They shouldn’t be wearing masks. If something happens, we’ll be able to handle that. The parents should be able to take care of that,” he said.
GOV. MURPHY’S REASON FOR DROPPING THE MANDATE:
  • Murphy cited the “dramatic decline in our COVID numbers” in announcing the rollback, as Omicron cases in the state are down 50% and hospitalizations are dropping off by one-third since last week, AP notes.
  • “We are not — and I’ve said this many times — going to manage COVID to zero,” the governor said.
  • “We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase of this virus.”
BACKGROUND:
  • New Jersey is one of a dozen states with mask mandates in schools, according to the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy, New Jersey’s being in place since classes resumed in person in September 2020, AP notes.
  • Gov. Murphy’s move comes as Delaware Gov. John Carney says his state’s school mask mandate will stay in effect until March 31 and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says she’s reviewing her options.