New Jersey health officials are reporting an increase in the number of COVID outbreaks in schools, but admit the numbers on the state's dashboard do not tell the whole story.

The New Jersey Department of Health lists a total of 69 cumulative school outbreaks. That's an increase of 30 new outbreaks since the last data was reported on September 27.

Officially, 379 students and staff members have been linked to school outbreaks. However, that number is likely much higher.

The issue is how the data is collected and reported. For example, if a parent reports their child has tested positive at home, that child is not included in the state's total number of school cases. Those numbers only reflect students and staff members who contracted the virus in school or transmitted it to another student or staff member inside a school building.

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In guidance issued by the state, an "in-school outbreak" is defined as three of more cases that are specifically transmitted between students or staff, and verified by contact tracing.

Toms River schools reported nearly a thousand students and staff were in quarantine due to COVID infections or exposure. Few of that total made it onto the state's dashboard because many of the infections were transmitted off school property. It's also why schools superintendent Stephen Genco could claim there "was no outbreak" in Toms River schools.

Despite the lack of clear reporting on the number of infected in New Jersey schools as students return to full-time in-class learning, Governor Phil Murphy says he is not concerned. "More than zero is too much," Murphy said at a Wednesday COVID briefing, "But its a reasonable place at this point."

Murphy issued a new directive to schools to begin expanded reporting on all known cases every week. State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli says those reports will include information on any COVID testing conducted by schools as well as any cases reported to schools by parents, student and staff.

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