NJ Quietly Updates K-12 Mask Guidance for March 7 and Beyond
TRENTON — The New Jersey Department of Health on Tuesday updated its recommendations for circumstances in which mask-wearing to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state's K-12 schools would be appropriate following the end of the statewide mandate on Monday, March 7.
NJDOH's update recognized that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend masks for all students age 2 and up, teachers, staff, and visitors, but that "circumstances in New Jersey have improved to the point where relaxation of universal masking rules in K-12 schools can generally occur."
Districts that choose not to continue to require masking past March 7 are being asked to consider active outbreaks, persons returning from isolation or quarantine, symptom onset while in school, and students in "test-to-stay" protocols as scenarios in which those affected should be asked to mask up.
The guidance also includes COVID-19 Activity Level Index, or CALI, scores of "high (orange) or "very high" (red), although CALI was dropped as a determinant of quarantine length prior to the December break.
"A lot of these decisions will, quite rightfully, be made at the district level with the input of the local health authorities and the local health realities," Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.
A CALI score of "moderate" (yellow) can be considered a prerequisite for mask requirements for activities or settings "in which increased exhalation occurs," such as indoor athletics.
Exposed close contacts who are unable to wear masks for intellectual, developmental, physical, or medical purposes 6 to 10 days after their exposure will be asked to quarantine for a full 10-day period, or not return until Day 8 if asymptomatic and with a negative test result on Days 5 through 7, according to the guidance.
Several New Jersey public school systems, most notably Newark but also Camden, Hillside, Plainfield, and others, have already said they will continue mask requirements past March 7.
School districts that do not keep universal policies in place and experience an in-school COVID outbreak should consider increased testing, or at least a partial return to masking in affected classrooms, NJDOH said.
NJDOH reiterated that masks must continue to be worn on school buses as per federal mandate, and that students and staff should not be discouraged from wearing masks given their personal level of concern about virus transmission.
"Nothing will or can prevent any student, educator, or staff member from continuing to wear a mask indoors if they so choose, and to do so without fear of being bullied or otherwise singled out for making that choice," Murphy said.