Camden schools will stay masked up after statewide order is lifted

Students wearing masks

Students wearing masks at Camden High School in Camden, N.J., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Camden City School District will continue to require facemasks for all students, staff, and visitors after New Jersey’s statewide mandate is lifted March 7.

“We are glad that the COVID numbers are decreasing in New Jersey, however, we want to make sure our young people continue to be safe while in our care,” Katrina McCombs, state district superintendent, said in a statement.

As of Wednesday, the city has accounted for about a fifth of Camden County’s 102,627 cases since the pandemic started. The city is only second in the county when it comes to the number of deaths. Cherry Hill Township has recorded the most deaths from the virus.

The city’s population is majority Latino and Black. Data has shown communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Leaders have strongly encouraged residents to get vaccinated, hosting a series of pop-up clinics and tapping barbers to serve as trusted messengers in an attempt to convince skeptics.

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The Camden schools have praised Gov. Phil Murphy for allowing local districts to make their own decisions.

“It makes for a great partnership when school districts can tailor decisions around masking to meet the unique needs of the school community each district serves,” McCombs said.

Camden joins Newark Public Schools, the largest district in the state, in continuing the mask mandate after the statewide order ends.

Many other school districts in South Jersey are still discussing what to do when the state mandate ends.

Trenton’s population, like Camden, is mostly people of color, and accounts for almost a third of the total COVID-19 cases in Mercer County.

Although the school district in the capital city is leaning towards continuing its mask mandate, Superintendent James Earl said that Trenton’s infection rate will help them with their decision.

“Even though the school district may be in a good place, we do look at city infection rates because quite often that’s going to be a signal for what may come,” he said, adding that he will inform the community of a decision prior to the end of the state mandate.

Cherry Hill Public Schools has not decided on what it will do after March 7. The subject is expected to come up at the school board’s Feb. 22 meeting. Collingswood Superintendent Fred McDowell told The Philadelphia Inquirer its public health advisory board will also meet soon to discuss, noting that he is leaning towards keeping the mandate in place, while Clayton Superintendent Nick Koutsogiannis said he thinks taking off the masks will improve students’ learning environments.

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