JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- There's a major change in policy for New Jersey schools.
Kids in New Jersey will have to wear masks in schools this fall.
It was just a few weeks ago that Gov. Phil Murphy said he was not planning to have a statewide mask mandate. So CBS2's Nick Caloway asked him why the about face?
"This is not an about face. If you go back to late June… we said two things. We are basing it as of this moment in time. We reserve the right to tweak this over the course of the summer, as we did in the summer of 2020. Indeed, we are doing it. And secondly, the Delta variant," Murphy said Friday.
Murphy said the fast-moving variant forced his hand.
"Due to the recent and rampant spread of the Delta variant, the fact that no child under the age of 12 is eligible to be vaccinated, and the reality that too many older students and their parents remain unvaccinated, that all students, educators, staff and visitors will be required to wear masks inside a school building, regardless of vaccination status for the start of the 2021-2022 academic year," the governor said.
"This is not an announcement that gives any of us or me, personally, any pleasure. But as the schoolyear approaches and with the numbers rapidly increasing, it is the one that we need to make right now," Murphy added.
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With just a few weeks to go before school starts back up, all students staff and visitors will have to buy into the mask reality.
"Anyone telling you that we can safely reopen our schools without requiring everyone inside to wear a mask is quite simply lying to you. Because we can't," Murphy said.
The Delta variant has created a rush of COVID cases and hospitalizations nationwide, including in New Jersey.
Because kids under the age of 12 can't get vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control recommends universal masking in schools.
The move also has the backing of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the New Jersey State Nurses Association, which represents school nurses.
For music teacher and parent Cheryl Brass, it's a relief.
"The children really need to go back to school. They want to go back to school. And this is the easiest way to get everyone there safely," Brass said.
The governor made the announcement at an elementary school in East Brunswick. Outside, hundreds of protesters showed up to loudly oppose the mask mandate.
"I have a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old. There's no way we're sending our kids to school with masks on their faces every day. No way," a protester named Rocco said.
Republican Assemblyman John Bramnick criticized the governor for making the decision without any transparency.
"The public is not involved, and 120 legislators are left out, and I think that's a disgrace," Bramnick said.
Kids can remove the masks while eating or playing musical instruments, Murphy said.
The governor also insisted that schools will open for full-time in-person instruction, with no remote learning.
Murphy said the mask mandate is not permanent, and he will lift it once the conditions allow.
"I can see it's going to be hard for the kids," one man told CBS2's John Dias.
"There's a little peace of mind knowing that there's at least something between them and the virus," Jersey City resident Nick Moore said.
"Kids are not vaccinated yet, so it's better to be safe than sorry," said Kathryn Moore of Jersey City.
The age restriction for the vaccine is why the CDC and the Pediatrics Academy recommend universal masking.
But Jersey City mother of two Vania Dimova said leaders should be focusing more on pushing to get kids under 12 eligible for the vaccine, rather than mask mandates.
"It's a bit of relief, but whatever is happening with vaccinations right now, I think that's what's giving me more of a relief," she said.
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That was Murphy's original plan, too, before Bramnick says the governor changed it all by himself.
"The Democrats just turned over all the powers up to him, so they didn't have to make the decision," Bramnick told Dias.
The minority leader for the Assembly says Democracy requires transparency and there should have been open hearings.
"Let the parents speak, let the experts speak," Bramnick said.
Bramnick went on to say he supports vaccines and thinks everyone who is eligible should get them. He said he may even support the mask mandate. He just wants to learn more about it.
Will New York City Classrooms Have Enough Space For Social Distancing?
Across the Hudson River, the Big Apple is also moving ahead with in-person classes with universal masking.
The state health commissioner says it's up to districts to "develop plans to open in-person in the fall as safely as possible," but he recommends "following guidance from the CDC and local health departments."
Many schools in the city are rushing to find the space for social distancing.
Jessenia Sanchez is getting her three daughters ready to return to New York City Public Schools in September, but classes will be a lot more crowded than when they left in June.
"It's a little more nerve wrecking, yeah, now because it's gonna be fuller. Before it was like 50% capacity, so there was room to social distance and now there's not," Sanchez told CBS2's Ali Bauman.
Even though the CDC recommends schools maintain "at least 3 feet" of social distance between students, the Department of Education admits some city classrooms are simply not big enough.
"According to our analysis, more than half of all students could not attend school full time and do any kind of social distancing next year," said Leonie Haimson, executive director of the advocacy organization Class Size Matters. "There is a large and growing movement of parents are demanding a remote option be provided for students next year."
But the DOE said in a statement, "All our schools will safely serve every student in accordance with current CDC guidance," which states if social distancing is not possible, schools should, "layer multiple other prevention strategies."
Such as testing.
"I think they should socially distance," grandfather Larry Smith said.
"I don't want to catch the virus, you know?" 9-year-old Tahir Duley said.
The city is now working with schools to find what every New Yorker is looking for -- more space. That includes utilizing cafeterias and outdoor space for classes.
"It worries me, but there's nothing I can do," Sanchez said.
The DOE said it's also conducting walkthroughs with principals to come up with creative solutions for making space.
CBS2's Ali Bauman, Nick Caloway and John Dias contributed to this report.
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