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Statewide mask mandate for New Jersey schools ending in March, governor says

States make changes to school mask rules
States announce changes to school mask rules 02:57

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy plans to end a statewide mask mandate to protect against COVID-19 in schools and child care centers. The change goes into effect March 7 and comes as New Jersey's caseload drops after a spike around the holidays fueled by the Omicron variant.

The governor announced the development at a news conference Monday. Local school districts and private child care providers will still be able to require masks if they want, Murphy said.

"Masking continues to be an important tool to prevent the spread of COVID and should be used in many circumstances," he said.

Other states have also announced a rollback in mask rules. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said Monday the requirement would be dropped for schools there at the end of the month, allowing local leaders to decide on mask rules. Delaware Governor John Carney is ending the state's universal indoor mask mandate on Friday and lifting the school mask requirement next month. 

Just a dozen states imposed mask mandates in schools, according to the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy.

New Jersey pre-K school classroom
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy talks to students in a pre-K class at the Dr. Charles Smith Early Childhood Center, on Sept. 16, 2021, in Palisades Park, N.J. Mary Altaffer / AP

New Jersey's mandate has been in place since school resumed in person in September 2020, with Murphy renewing it before the start of the current school year and as recently as January. At the time, he didn't specify how much longer the requirement could be in place.

The changes come as the Omicron-fueled winter surge seems to be fading in most parts of the United States.

The number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 has declined 24% since mid-January to about 111,000. New cases per day have also dropped by more than a half-million since mid-January, when they hit a peak of more than 800,000. Cases have been declining in 47 states in the last two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Deaths are still running high, at more than 2,400 per day on average, the most since last winter, reflecting a lag time between when victims become infected and when they die.

Murphy faced pressure from Republicans and some parents who have held rallies at the statehouse in support of rescinding the requirement. But the governor has had support from the influential New Jersey Education Association, the state's biggest teachers union.

Republicans claimed credit for pushing the governor to end the mandate. Murphy has said that he wasn't swayed by political pressure.

"Gov. Murphy will never admit that the pressure is getting to him, but it absolutely is," Republican Senate Leader Steve Oroho said.

News that Murphy would end the mandate was first reported by The New York Times.

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