What’s Behind Murphy’s No-Masks-in-School Stance?

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On May 24th Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Morning Joe that all students would be wearing masks in school in September. “We’ll have masking in schools in the fall [and] I would suspect we’ll continue with some of the public health protocols inside the classroom and inside the school buildings.” 

On June 28th he changed his mind, saying he’ll leave the decision to individual districts: Only a “dramatic” setback in the battle against COVID-19 would cause him to reverse himself, he told reporters. (Worth noting: this last flop from the flip came during a heat wave when superintendents were ignoring him anyway because who can insist kids and staff wear face masks when buildings are 90 degrees?)

Today Scott Fallon of North Jersey Media Group wonders whether Murphy’s change of heart is influenced more by politics than science. Remember, it’s an election year and some New Jerseyans have had it with the state’s relatively strict Covid restrictions. While Murphy has high marks for pandemic management (as long as you don’t think too hard about nursing homes and long-term care facilities) and a solid lead over opponent Jack Ciattarelli, his ratings are down a notch, with a 57% approval rate in May, down from 71% last year, according to Patrick Murray at Monmouth University.

And lots of people are sick of masks.

‘The vast majority of parents want kids back in school without masks,’ said Matthew Hale of Seton Hall University. ‘You see it at school board meetings; you see the pressure on public officials. This now puts it squarely at the local level.’

And, 

‘Any politician is going to be balancing the political implications with the health implications,’ said David Redlawsk, chairman of the political science department at the University of Delaware and former director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. ‘It leaves people unsure of what to do. Last month it was one thing, this month it’s another.’

Yet Brandon Brown, a professor of public health, told Fallon, “throwing masks out of the equation is not following the science, since we know masks prevent the spread of the virus. The emergence of the delta variant in the United States is alarming not only for unvaccinated adults but also for unvaccinated children, who need to be protected.” 

Fallon notes that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that schools continue mask-wearing “until the vaccine is available for younger age groups and vaccinations within the pediatric population are high enough to prevent transmission.”

Currently in NJ the decline in Covid hospitalization has plateaued, after dropping steadily. This is primarily due to the delta variant, where rates of transmission have risen over the last four weeks to 15.6% of all variant cases from 7.3% the prior week.

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