New Jersey will get rid of its mask mandate for students and school employees starting the second week of March, Gov. Phil Murphy, D-N.J., has announced, The New York Times reported.
The move comes as new cases of the omicron variant fall sharply and follows a decision last month by another Democrat, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, to eliminate the school mask mandate in his state.
Murphy, vice chairman of the National Governors Association, said after meeting President Joe Biden at the White House during an annual governors conference last week that "the overwhelming sentiment on both sides of the aisle is we want to get to a place where we can live with [the coronavirus] in as normal a fashion as possible."
Students in New Jersey have been required to wear masks since September 2020, when most schools reopened after a four-month lockdown, with the state being 1 of 11 in the nation with such a policy.
Murphy said that the implementation of the policy change was timed for March, when temperatures will begin to rise, so that schools can have additional options for ventilation.
According to Murphy's decision, school districts will be permitted to continue to require mask wearing or to restore the regulations if cases of the virus go up again, The New York Times reported.
In many states with Republican governors, mask mandates in schools have been banned, which has led to court cases where school districts in those states want everyone to continue wearing masks.
Controversy has erupted over the topic, and GOP candidates are using the frustration of parents regarding the issue as a way to target Democrat opponents ahead of this year's midterm elections.
People who reported always wearing a mask indoors in public were less likely to get the coronavirus, according to a report released on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, doctors who back getting rid of masks point to the mental health strain suffered by children during the pandemic and the educational importance of being able to see full faces, particularly for those who are learning to read.
One teacher stressed to The New York Times that "if our goal is to keep students in school, then continuing to wear masks does that. I don't want to go back to teaching online, and they sure don’t want to go back to learning online."
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