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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy Announces Indoor Mask Mandate For 2021-22 School Year

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) -- Masks will be required by all students, teachers, staff, and visitors at all New Jersey schools beginning on Aug. 9, Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday afternoon. Murphy signed the executive order Friday joined by medical professionals, school administrators, educators, and teachers.

The universal masking mandate in schools comes as the Delta COVID-19 variant continues to surge in the United States and in the tri-state area. On Thursday, New Jersey reported its highest single-day number with 1,300 daily COVID-19 cases, a 367% increase from one month ago.

Burlington and Cumberland Counties also joined Cape May County as hot spots in New Jersey.

Murphy said he was compelled to reverse his decision on masks in schools because COVID-19 numbers have increased dramatically in New Jersey.

"The health and safety of our kids is among if not my most sacred responsibility," Murphy said.

New Jersey officials cited both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics' recent recommendations on masks in schools amid the rise in the Delta variant, students under 12 years old's ineligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine, and the rise in COVID cases among children as chief reasons behind the mandate.

"Given the Delta variant's high transmissibility and the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available for children under 12, we must use all the prevention strategies we have to protect children in classrooms this fall," Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said. "Children should wear masks, physically distance, wash their hands frequently, stay home when they're sick, get tested when they have symptoms, and get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible."

Most students are not vaccinated, which increases their risk for infection. That's why masks are being mandated in New Jersey, where schools will open for full-time in-person instruction.

"This is a simple step that each of us can take, kids and adults, that meaningfully pushes back against the transmission of this virus," Murphy said.

While protestors against mitigation have followed Murphy, many students and parents Eyewitness News talked to in Haddonfield understand the need for a school mask mandate.

"I think whatever keeps them in school and safe, I'm all for it," Jeneice Mowad said.

"I don't like wearing masks, but at the same time, whatever we can do to get this over with as soon as possible I'm willing to do," 11th grader Quency Palmateer said.

Officials said there will be exceptions to the mandate that include students with document medical conditions or disabilities, students under 2 years old, when eating and drinking or playing an instrument that a mask would obstruct, during physical education class in a well-ventilated location with the ability to physical distance, among other exceptions.

The New Jersey Education Association said it supports the universal masking mandate.

"We support the Murphy Administration's decision to follow public health guidance and require masking for students and staff in public schools as the new school year begins. It is the prudent, responsible course of action in the face of the resurgence of COVID-19 across the state," the NJEA said in a statement. "This is not what anyone hoped for to begin this school year. However, we cannot waver in our commitment to protecting the health and safety of students and staff as the COVID-19 pandemic is surging. Above all, we remain committed to providing our students with the best possible educational experience this year. They deserve it and we are determined to make sure they have it."

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday said his state will not follow in New Jersey's steps in mandating masks in schools.

"We're following CDC guidelines. We're strongly recommending that if you are indoors in schools, you got to wear a mask, K through 12," Wolf said.

Wolf said school districts, like businesses, can make their own decisions on masks and other precautions.

In Delaware, Gov. John Carney said he's considering a mask mandate but no decisions have been made yet.

CBS3's Stephanie Stahl contributed to this report.

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