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New Jersey’s school mask mandate expired on Monday and public polling indicates that it is a welcome change for many, as severe cases of the coronavirus drop.
It marks the end of one of the most controversial state coronavirus restrictions.
According to a poll conducted over the last couple of weeks by the Eagleton Center For Public Interest Polling, two-thirds of New Jersey residents agree with ending the school mask mandate.
“New Jerseyans technically know that this pandemic is ongoing, but they’re certainly ready to make a shift in their daily lives and their practices,” said Ashley Koning, director of the Eagleton Center For Public Interest Polling.
The Murphy Administration announced the end of the school mask mandate during a coronavirus briefing last month.
“Early March traditionally means the weather starts to warm up at least a bit, which will give schools a little bit more flexibility to increase ventilation, be more creative with that, and further decrease the risk of COVID spread,” Murphy said at the time.
Jessica Kim, a mom of three students in Cherry Hill, said she believed masks helped reduce transmission in schools and noted that we may be in a new phase of the pandemic that may not be as “lethal” for folks who are vaccinated.
“My family is fully vaccinated, have been compliant with social distancing recommendations the entire time, and are ready to try to move on now,” Kim said. “We understand that there will be no perfect or 100% safe time to go unmasked. But the hope is that by gradually unmasking we can begin to reclaim at least one sense of social normalcy.”
But not all students and parents were ready for the mandate to be lifted.
“I like seeing people’s faces, but I feel like we are moving too quickly. While masks are a slight inconvenience, I am willing to endure that in order to protect myself and others,” said Christina Huang, a senior at Ridgewood High School. “Especially those who have autoimmune diseases that cannot get vaccinated.”
The Eagleton Center poll suggested that at least 30 % of New Jersey residents still disagree with lifting the mask mandate in schools, with 18% who “strongly disagree.”
“The global health toll from COVID just hit 6 million. We still are in the middle of a pandemic and I would prefer that we prioritize the safety and health of others over our comfort,” Huang said.
Not all school districts will immediately ditch masks.
Camden City School District announced it would keep its school mask mandate intact due to the city’s low vaccination rate.
“The Camden City School District will maintain the expectation that masking will remain in effect in all of our buildings. Any deviation in our masking policy will not be entertained without full collaboration with the County Health Department,” said Camden Superintendent Katrina McCombs in a statement.
Newark and Trenton school districts will also keep the mandate in effect, also citing low vaccination rates.
Atlantic City School District will make masks optional with “no limitations.”
Masks will also be optional at Cumberland Regional School District. Students visiting the school district’s nursing offices must wear a mask, according to the district’s website.
The Murphy administration said it would allow school districts to reinstate mask mandates in response to local outbreaks, and he also said there would be consequences for anyone who bullies or demeans students who continue to wear masks.