New Jersey Governor Ends School Mask Mandate

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New Jersey Governor Ends School Mask Mandate
Gov. Phil Murphy cited the state's rapid decline in virus cases, calling the move "a huge step back to normalcy for our kids."

New Jersey's governor announced plans Monday to lift the statewide COVID-19 mask requirement in schools a month from now because of the rapid easing of the omicron surge.

Individual school districts will be free to continue requiring masks once the state mandate ends March 7, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said.

New Jersey is one of a dozen states with mask mandates in schools, according to the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy. New Jersey’s has been in place since classes resumed in person in September 2020.

Murphy cited the "dramatic decline in our COVID numbers” in announcing the rollback. The omicron variant fueled a spike in infections over the holidays, but cases in the state are down 50% and hospitalizations dropped off by one-third since last week, he said.

Omicron is likewise loosening its grip on most of the rest of the U.S., and that has raised hopes among politicians and public health experts that the pandemic may be about to enter a new phase in which the virus becomes like the flu — an ever-present but manageable threat.

“We are not — and I’ve said this many times — going to manage COVID to zero,” Murphy said. “We have to learn how to live with COVID as we move from a pandemic to an endemic phase of this virus.”

In New Jersey, it is unclear how many and how soon the state's 600-plus school districts might end the wearing of masks.

Nationwide, new COVID-19 cases per day have plunged 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 past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Also, the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 has fallen 24% since mid-January to about 111,000.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.