Yesterday at his coronavirus briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy announced he would ask the State Legislature for a 90-day extension of his emergency powers in order to maintain the mask mandate in schools. While Murphy lifted the mask mandate last May for indoor settings, he kept them in place in schools, day-care centers, on public transit, and in healthcare settings.
It’s a crapshoot whether the Legislature will approve his request, especially after last November’s election when Republicans flipped seven Democratic seats. “We’re looking at it,” out-going Senate President Steve Sweeney told nj.com. “I was at a couple Democrat reorganizations, and what I’m hearing from people is: We’re gonna have to learn how to live with this. Because it’s another year.”
As the omicron variant spreads (NJ reported 20,428 new cases and a jump in hospitalizations of 76% compared to last week), it’s becoming increasingly clear that a mask isn’t a mask isn’t a mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that any old cloth mask doesn’t cut it; it must be multi-layered, tightly-woven, fit snugly, and have an adjustable wire nose bridge. Some epidemiologists say meaningful protection is only available with N95 or KN95 masks, or by double-masking with a well-fitting cloth mask over a surgical mask. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, says, “If everyone is just wearing a cloth mask or just a surgical mask, it won’t make any difference” with omicron. (For more, see this study from the National Institutes of Health.)
Murphy also said he had “no intention or plan” to shut down schools and revert to remote instruction, as he did at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. However, numerous NJ school districts, mostly large urban centers that enroll disproportionately low-income Black and Brown students, have implemented virtual instruction anyway.
In order to secure his request, the State Legislature would have to approve an extension of his emergency powers. If Murphy’s request is denied the in-school mask mandate would sunset on January 11th.