Murphy Urges Safety as School Year Starts

As New Jersey schools reopen and students and faculty return for in-person instruction, Gov. Phil Murphy urged everyone to make safety a priority – especially in light of a recent rise in hospitalizations attributed to Delta and possibly other COVID-19 variants.

“Certainly, masking by all individuals within our school buildings is important in kicking off our school year, but masking is only part of a package of a layered approach to safety being put in place, including staying home when sick – just like in the old days – vaccinations, physical distancing, and hand washing, among other steps,” Murphy said during today’s COVID-19 press briefing. “We’re also recommending routine testing even when asymptomatic to prevent further spread.”

Along those lines, New Jersey’s Departments of Health and Education are releasing details to districts regarding $267 million earmarked to support K-12 coronavirus testing programs. These funds can be used to provide end-to-end testing services at schools, or a district can request funding to support an in-house testing program as long as it is consistent with Department of Health guidelines. Murphy also noted COVID-19 tests will be given at no cost to students, faculty or districts.

“We strongly encourage districts to work with their local health department to develop a testing strategy and consider participating in this program, and we further hope all parents and guardians ensure their child participates in testing when the opportunity arises,” he said.

Murphy also discussed the plan to provide booster shots and third doses to vaccinated New Jerseyans, clarifying that a booster is an additional dose that allows the immune system to boost up its defenses against the coronavirus, while a third dose is an additional dose of the vaccine for those living with an immune system deficiency. Since third shots became available on August 14, they have been administered to 41,000 New Jersey residents with immune system deficiencies.

Booster shots will begin the week of September 20, and New Jersey health officials are awaiting the final recommendation from the CDC on whether they should be given six or eight months after the initial vaccinations.

Murphy also noted that more than 5.4 million residents have been vaccinated, bringing New Jersey over the threshold of 80% of all those who live, work or study in the state. Still, the positivity rate is back up to almost 7% and hospitalizations have been up 22% over the last two weeks – numbers officials are watching carefully, according to Judy Persichilli, commissioner of New Jersey Department of Health. “The rate of the curve seems to be moderating a bit. When we compare ourselves to other states, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are all clustered at the lower end of case increases,” she said.

New Jersey officials also expressed concern as the remains of Hurricane Ida impact the state today and tomorrow, bringing two to six inches of rain on top of last week’s downpour. State Police Supervisor Col. Pat Callahan pointed to areas of concern for flooding, including the Saddle River and Lodi Passaic River in both Little Falls and Pine Brook, Raritan River at Manville and North Branch Raritan River near Raritan.

In addition, Murphy said he, Persichilli, Callahan and other officials will be at tomorrow’s briefing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to discuss the arrival of up to 9,500 Afghan refugees who may be sheltered there for six months to a year.

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