Public Greets Murphy’s Mask Mandate With Protests and Praise

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Today at a press briefing Gov. Phil Murphy hit back at those who are protesting his mask mandate for all K-12 schools.

We are not going to sacrifice the health of any child, any educator, any family, or any community. We’re not going to just let COVID shut down our schools. The past 17 months have called upon us all to be a little more selfless, and a bit less selfish…[Anti-maskers] are saying that they are perfectly willing to accept children landing in the ICU or dying from COVID.

When a reporter asked him what would be the consequences for children who refused to wear masks, Murphy said “the rules of the road are being promulgated as we speak.” It was unclear if these consequences would be set by the state; more likely, districts will come up with their own policies.

Murphy’s Executive Order mandating masks in all K-12 schools, issued Friday afternoon, followed the New Jersey Education Association’s supportive statements urging such a mandate. In June Murphy said there would be no mask mandate. At the end of July he “strongly recommended” that all students and staff wear masks in schools but stopped short of a mandate, saying,  “I don’t want to go backward — that’s the last thing I want to do — but we’ll do what we have to do.”

Reaction to the mask mandate has been mixed. Some applaud it as common-sensical. The group called New Jersey Parents for Personal Choice has seen a surge of signatures on its petition, which asks Murphy to allow virtual-learning options for students who can’t be vaccinated, have underlying health issues, or prefer remote instruction. About one hundred people protested in front of Murphy’s home on Saturday and protests continued today. GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack CIattarelli tweeted,

Some New Jersey superintendents expressed relief that masking decisions were taken off their respective plates. Mount Olive superintendent Robert Zywicki, who had planned a masks-optional school opening, is concerned about virtual learning. “If the situation is so precarious that we are going back to a mask mandate, I would appreciate guidance on, is there going to be a return to a virtual option for families who are looking for that?” Zywicki said. “And that’s my next question, if we’re back in this situation.”

Zywicki will have to wait. This week Murphy and his family are on vacation at their Italian villa.

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