TRENTON – Students will still have to wear masks on school buses even after New Jersey’s mask mandate lifts next month unless the federal government changes its requirement.

“School buses are subject to federal masking regulations,” said Alyana Alfaro, a spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order in January 2021 requiring masks to be worn by all people while on public transportation or in hubs such as airports, bus terminals, and train stations. The order includes school buses.

The CDC hasn’t changed its maks guidance, even as more states lift their mask mandates in schools. Its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, told Reuters in an interview Tuesday that “now is not the moment” for changing school mask rules, as New Jersey is doing.

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The statewide requirement that students, staff, and visitors wear masks in schools and child-care centers ends March 7. Schools can choose to continue to require masks, and they won’t be allowed to ban people from wearing them.

The change comes as known COVID-19 infections continue to plummet. The state has recorded an average of 2,441 cases a day over the past week, the lowest since Nov. 30. Infections are down 92% from their record peak a month ago when they averaged 31,839 a day on Jan. 10.

Only Maryland and Washington, D.C., have lower case rates than New Jersey currently.

There were 1,811 hospital patients in New Jersey with COVID as of Tuesday night, down 70% from the recent peak of 6,089 on Jan. 11. They included 344 in intensive care and 229 on ventilators.

The number of COVID-related deaths has also begun receding. The state has reported an average of 72 confirmed deaths a day over the past week, down from a recent peak of 108 about two weeks ago and at its lowest level since Jan. 11.

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