The change in guidance from just over a month ago reflects a spike in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations spurred by the highly contagious variant, Murphy told a news conference.
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“There are issues that are and must always remain above politics, and this is one of them,” said Murphy, a Democrat who is the only incumbent US governor up for re-election this fall.
The debate around masks in US schools reignited last month when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course and recommended that all students and staff wear masks in school regardless of vaccination status.
A patchwork of policies has emerged from state to state, and even town to town, around the issue that has become deeply political in the United States.
In New Jersey, Covid-19 cases rose 105% over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis of public health data. Hospitalizations have spiked 92% in the past four weeks, the data shows.
About 67% of New Jersey residents have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. US vaccination rates vary widely from a high of 76% of Vermont residents receiving the first dose to a low of 41% in Mississippi.
States with lower vaccination rates have been hardest hit by the fast-spreading variant.
Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi account for half of the country’s new cases and hospitalizations in the last week, White House officials said.
In Florida, the Board of Education on Friday adopted an emergency rule that would allow parents to transfer their child to another school “when a student is subjected to harassment in response to a school district’s Covid-19 mitigation protocols,” including mask protocols.
The newly approved rule lets parents transfer their kids to a private school or a school in another district under the Hope scholarship, funding that was originally created to allow Florida public school pupils who are victims of bullying to move to a different institution.
During the emergency meeting, one parent called the rule a “moral outrage” that equated a school’s mask mandate to harassment and bullying.
Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order last week blocking mask mandates in the state’s schools.
There were 13,427 Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the Sunshine State as of Friday morning, a fresh record high, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The Broward County Public School Board will meet on Tuesday to decide how to move forward following DeSantis’ order.
Rosalind Osgood, the board’s chairwoman, said she planned to vote to require masks for students and school staff in the county, telling CNN on Friday: “I’m not willing to take a risk with somebody’s life when we have a deadly pandemic.”
Some of the nation’s largest school districts including New York and Los Angeles have made masks mandatory for the upcoming school year.