While most of the state has seemingly moved on from COIVD-19 restrictions, including mask mandates, two of New Jersey's largest educational systems are set to require students and staff to mask-up for the new school sessions.

Rutgers University and the Newark public school system will still require students and staff to mask-up indoors. (The Newark Board of Education meets Thursday, Aug. 25, but the mask issue is not on the published agenda)

New Jersey Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer, R-Gloucester, called the Rutgers policy "embarrassing" and said the policy flies in the face of science.

The university announced the mask policy will remain in effect for all classrooms and libraries for unvaccinated students and staff.

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"The CDC says discriminating between the vaccinated and unvaccinated is illogical because of breakthrough infections and the high level of Covid immunity acquired from past infections," Sawyer said in a news release.

Newark seems poised to continue it's universal masking policy for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status. They were the only school district in New Jersey not to ease mask restrictions when Gov. Phil Murphy lifted his mask mandate before the end of the last school year.

It appears Newark will be the only school district to require masks to begin the new year in September, although masks are voluntary in every district.

The Newark Teachers Union supports the masking policy, and cited Rutgers policy in an interview with NJ.com.

"A certain percentage are super-frustrated," Union president John Abeigon said, "But I have to remind them, we're not the only place that still requires masks."

On the surface, the policies of both institutions appear to run counter to current established norms, but they are in-line with existing CDC guidance.

According to the CDC, people should be masking in any county where community transmission rates are 'high.'

Seven New Jersey Counties are currently listed as having a 'high' transmission rate on the CDC data tracker: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Essex, Middlesex and Monmouth.

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Rutgers has campuses in Essex, Middlesex and Camden Counties.

Newark is in Essex County.

Under the CDC guidelines, schools should be requiring student and staff to wear a mask in all of the counties listed above. We know of no additional schools that are requiring them, in those counties or others not listed.

Gov. Murphy has not said much about the issue and neither has his education commissioner. The state seems willing to allow each individual district to continue to make their own decisions on masking and other COVID precautions.

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