N.J. coronavirus update: More funding available for COVID testing in schools

Maria Mirkovic works with some of her third graders in her classroom at Christa McAuliffe School in Jersey City, N.J., Thursday, April 29, 2021. Kindergarten through third grade students are returning to their school buildings in Jersey City for their first time in over a year. New Jersey's two largest cities have begun making their return to classrooms in person after working remotely because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Students in Jersey City began returning to school today, just days after Newark officials said they were expanding in-person instruction to four days a week, up from two. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Maria Mirkovic works with some of her third graders in her classroom at Christa McAuliffe School in Jersey City, N.J., Thursday, April 29, 2021. Kindergarten through third grade students are returning to their school buildings in Jersey City for their first time in over a year. New Jersey's two largest cities have begun making their return to classrooms in person after working remotely because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Students in Jersey City began returning to school today, just days after Newark officials said they were expanding in-person instruction to four days a week, up from two. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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New Jersey officials announced more money to help schools test students and staff for the coronavirus.

The $267 million is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and distributed through the state’s departments of education and health.

“Districts will have a choice between using state-contracted vendors to provide end-to-end testing services on site at schools,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday, “or districts can request funding to support an in-house testing program which already may be in place.” The in-house programs will be supported as long as they meet state guidelines.

To apply for the money, school administrators need to come up with a testing plan in conjunction with local health departments, according to state Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli. She said testing should be part of a “layered” preventative approach that includes face masks, frequent handwashing, and social distancing.

“When schools implement testing combined with prevention strategies, they can detect new cases to prevent outbreaks, reduce the risk of further transmission and protect students, teachers and staff,” she said.

Murphy has given all school faculty and staff until Oct. 18 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to routine testing.

Currently, 44% of New Jerseyans age 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated; 55% of the same age group have received at least one dose, according to the commissioner.

“Testing should be offered on a voluntary basis and schools should have a procedure in place to obtain parental consent for minor students,” she added.

“We want everyone to be as safe as possible in their schools and classrooms,” Murphy said. “We expect everyone to be wearing their face masks and we will continue to work with district and educational leaders.”

The governor has pushed for schools to open this month on-time for in-person instruction, with no remote option outside of a local outbreak or other emergency.

In August, Murphy announced a mask mandate for all school buildings in the state. He followed that up with a vaccine mandate for school faculty and staff. Those who are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 must undergo weekly testing.

But the governor’s efforts have not gone unopposed.

A lawsuit to block any mask mandates in New Jersey was amended Monday to address Murphy’s order. Both sides must submit briefs by close of business next Friday.

Separately, a group of parents are continuing to urge Murphy to consider a virtual option for students with medical challenges. The governor said last Monday that he would follow up with New Jersey Parents for Virtual Choice after saying he would meet with them back in June. Though Murphy has been adamant that there would be no virtual option. According to members of the group, they had yet to hear from a representative from Murphy’s office.

 

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