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'Test To Stay' Program Begins In New Jersey As Students Return To Schools Across The State

HOBOKEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- It was back to school on Monday for kids in New Jersey, though not everyone was in the classroom.

Some districts started off the new year with remote learning, CBS2's Kevin Rincon reported.

The ongoing surge from the Omicron variant has meant a return to at-home learning for tens of thousands of kids.

"The days leading up to winter break showed a spike in surge in numbers that we had not seen before," Newark Schools Superintendent Roger Leon said.

WATCH: Newark Superintendent On Staying Remote After Holiday Break 

Leon is the head of the largest school system in the state, with close to 37,000 students. Last month alone, more than 750 students got sick, with 500 staff members testing positive.

The district will stay virtual for another two weeks.

"Everyone should plan with the idea that students would be back in person on the 18th," Leon said.


It's not just Newark. Several places have gone remote for the first few days of the new year to allow them to get tested before going back, and while individual districts weigh their options, the state won't force anyone to go remote.

"We currently have no intention or plan to shut our schools," Gov. Phil Murphy said.

Instead, the governor said testing will continue and, for now, masks will still be required.

"This brings us absolutely no joy. No one wants to see our kids' smiles more than I do, but this is what is necessary now to keep our schools safe," Murphy said.

As for kids exposed to classmates who test positive, New Jersey put out new guidance over the weekend for what it call its "Test to Stay" program, for unvaccinated asymptomatic students who test negative.

"Students participating in Test to Stay are required to comply with enhanced testing and masking recommendations, and should quarantine when not in schools," Health Commissioner Dr. Judy Persichilli said.

For now, there's a lack of uniformity. In Hoboken, schools will be closed for a few days to allow students to get city-funded PCR testing.

Elsewhere in the state, some districts are back with no testing at all. In those communities, many parents are now footing the bill for their own testing, for peace of mind.

But that's proving problematic for many, CBS2's Ali Bauman reported.


Some families are struggling to even find a test, and then waiting days to get the results.

"We've been told to come here, on a long line in the cold," Beverly Terry of Hackensack said.

It was Terry's fifth attempt to get a test for her 14-year-old son.

"The school normally has three or four locations where you can get a test. They're all closed and the pharmacy, Walgreens in Hackensack closed. It's terrible," Terry said.

They were lining up with the others outside a MedRite site in Paramus, hoping to get an elusive PCR test.

"A lot of places are just rapid COVID tests, so I was looking all over for PCR and some places that do have PCR take about a week or week and a half to get results," resident Valentina Velez said.

But results at the Paramus site are delayed, too. The site manager blamed a backup at the lab.

"They promised us results in two to three days and now it's almost four and a half days later and I still don't have the results," the manager said.

"He's only 14 and he doesn't have the booster, so I just want to be cautious," Terry said.

CBS2's Kevin Rincon and Ali Bauman contributed to this report.

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