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Murphy says N.J. school mask mandate will continue, though it’s unclear how

Emma Lee
Students settle in at their desks for their first day of in-person learning in more than a year at H.B. Wilson Elementary School in Camden, N.J. on April 19, 2021.

State officials report that 80 children are hospitalized with COVID-19 right now; 27 of them are primarily there because of symptoms of the virus. Two children recently died from the virus in New Jersey. Nationally, 1,000 children have died, making COVID-19 one of the top 10 causes of death for children ages 5 to 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says the statewide school mask mandate will remain in place “for the foreseeable future.”

“These requirements again give us no joy, but they're the only responsible course of action at this time,” he said.

What is not clear is how he will be able to keep the mandate in place after the order expires Tuesday at 11:59 p.m., and the Legislature failed to extend all of the emergency powers the governor had requested for another 90 days.

The mandate was implemented in August ahead of the current school year as cases of the contagious delta variant of COVID-19 were growing. At that time, no vaccines were approved for children under 16 without underlying medical conditions.

The governor admitted Monday during his weekly coronavirus briefing that he didn’t know how exactly the mandate would stay in place, but said he’s working on it.

"I don't have a specific construct for you, but we're working very cooperatively with the legislative leadership to make sure that we've got a good pathway forward," Murphy said.

Lawmakers balked at Murphy’s request to keep his emergency powers in place for another 90 days. Outgoing Senate President Steve Sweeney said the full extension isn’t being granted because the state has to learn to live with the virus, according to NJ Advance Media, especially with vaccines readily available.

“It’s not going to go away,” he said about the virus. “The people who are vaccinated are vaccinated. And those who aren’t won’t. At this point, we’ve got to learn how to move forward with this.”

On Monday, during the final voting session of the current Legislature, lawmakers declined to vote on a resolution that would have granted a 45-day extension on some orders, such as blocking insurance providers from charging patients for COVID-19 tests and vaccinations and allowing for virtual public meetings.

The expiration of some of his emergency powers comes at a time when omicron, a more transmissible COVID-19 variant, is surging in the Garden State and across the country. It also comes as New Jersey has seen more children hospitalized for the virus than at any time during the pandemic.