The new mandate has the support of the state’s teachers unions. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Getty Images)
School faculty and staff workers must complete a vaccine regiment by Oct. 18 or submit to between one and two COVID-19 tests each week, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday.
The new mandate, which will also apply to state workers, may be the most expansive New Jersey has yet seen. Some workers in health care, corrections, long-term care facilities, and some other congregate settings are already required to vaccinate by Sept. 7 or submit to a similar testing requirement.
“Scientific data shows that vaccination and testing requirements, coupled with strong masking policies, are the best tools for keeping our schools and communities safe for in-person activities,” Murphy said in a statement. “As the school year rapidly approaches, my administration is continuing to do all that we can to ensure a safe, full-time, in-person learning environment for our students, many of whom are not yet eligible for vaccination.”
The new restrictions come as virus counts climb upward in a surge fueled by the virulent and highly contagious Delta variant. They will affect public, private, and charter schools, as well as preschools. All their employees will be required to vaccinate, or get regularly tested. The requirement does not extend to students.
The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any COVID-19 vaccine for use in individuals under the age of 12.
The new mandate has the support of the state’s teachers unions.
“This executive order is another example of Gov. Murphy’s unwavering commitment to health and safety of NJEA members and the students we serve,” NJEA President-elect Sean Spiller said. “We will continue to urge everyone who is eligible and able to get vaccinated. Along with masking and other COVID-19 safety measures, that is the best way to keep all of our communities safe and move through this pandemic.”
Vaccine mandates have been viewed as politically sensitive, though a Monmouth University poll released Monday found a slim 53% majority of registered voters supported mandating vaccines in schools.
A school mask mandate the governor announced in early August won support from two-thirds of voters.
The timing of the new mandate poses some problems. Two-dose COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna come with waiting periods of 21 and 28 days, respectively, between shots.
Those shots and the single-dose vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson each take about 14 days to reach maximum effectiveness, meaning it’s likely some who comply with the mandate won’t reach the height of their immunity until more than a month into the school year.
Murphy on Monday sought to downplay that possibility.
“We think the steps we’re taking today, both the step itself and the timing, is the right mix based on what we’re looking at in terms of modeling, etc.,” he said.
New Jersey’s announcement coincides with a similar one in New York City, which on Monday announced it would require faculty and staff employed by the country’s largest school system be vaccinated, with no testing option for those who do not wish to be immunized.
New Jersey is once again regularly reporting more than 1,000 new COVID-19 infections each day.
On Friday, the state reported more than 2,000 new cases for the first time since late April, the tail end of the last surge. Over the past week, New Jersey has reported an average of 1,628 cases each day. Such counts were rarely more than 200 for much of June.
Hospitalizations, too, have been steadily growing. The state on Monday reported 946 hospital beds were occupied by patients with COVID-19, about three times as many as the state reported from mid-June to mid-July. Deaths have remained low, and the state hasn’t reported more than 10 COVID-19 fatalities since June 2, when 12 COVID-positive individuals died.
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