(The Center Square) – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is ending the statewide mask mandate in schools effective March 7.
“Balancing public health with getting back to some semblance of normalcy is not easy,” Murphy said on Twitter.
“Thankfully, we have reached a point where we feel confident that we can take another step toward normalcy for our kids,” the governor said in a statement. “Given the continued drop in new cases and hospitalizations, projections indicating a continued decline over the coming weeks, and the continued growth of vaccinations for our school-aged population, we believe that we can responsibly end the universal mask mandate.”
Murphy said he plans to sign an executive order to extend the public health emergency that was to expire on Feb. 10 for 30 days. With the public health emergency, the state can continue its vaccine distribution, vaccination or testing mandates in some settings and COVID-19 data collection.
During a Monday press briefing, Murphy said the state announced the mandate with enough advanced warning to allow schools to prepare for the change. Private childcare providers and schools can still enforce a mask mandate, and students will be allowed to wear masks if they choose to do so.
Additionally, Murphy said school systems cannot ban masks.
New Jersey Republicans continued their criticism of the governor, saying he should end the mandate immediately.
“While this is welcome news for students and their parents, I question the timing of the announcement by the Governor,” state Sen. Michael Testa, R-Vineland, said in a statement issued before Murphy’s press briefing. “Why isn’t the school mask mandate ending today?
“The answer is simple, this decision is guided by political science,” Testa added. “If this was truly guided by ‘the science’, this arbitrary mandate would have been lifted 23 months ago, and the Governor knows that.”
Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips, R-Bergen, echoed a point many state Republican lawmakers have made recently that the state legislature should have a bigger say in such decisions.
“The legislature should have more input into decision making, because every legislator is more in tune to the concerns of the districts, teachers, parents and students we represent than any other state official,” DePhillips said. “This never should have been a decision by one person, because in our democracy the legislature is a co-equal branch.”