Students attending school in New Jersey are required to wear masks, but during the Monday COVID update, Gov. Phil Murphy suggested that requirement could soon be relaxed, perhaps in phases.

He said when he issued an executive order this past summer that the academic year would begin with a masking requirement “one of the reasons was that our youngest students were not yet eligible for vaccinations, well now they are.”

Murphy went on to say “with each child who gets vaccinated and enters a classroom with an educator who was vaccinated and sits among their peer who got vaccinated, the closer we get to being able to lift this requirement.”

The governor noted the executive order mandating masks in schools expires Jan. 11, however, he stressed that should not be interpreted to mean it will automatically be lifted in two months.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said 9,116 kids between the ages of 5 and 11 have received a COVID vaccine in New Jersey, and in total “there’s 760,000 5- to 11-year-olds and we’d like to get all of them vaccinated. The more individuals we get vaccinated the more the virus has no place to go.”

She also noted 390,000 of the 650,000 12- to 17-year-olds in New Jersey have been vaccinated, which is about 60%, and that number continues to rise.

“In terms of lifting the mask mandate in schools, I could see it in a phased approach if that number of the 12- to 17-year-olds gets into an acceptable zone, which it almost by definition will before the younger kids," Murphy said.

“You could see making a move, phasing it in, based on the age of the kids — high school versus middle school versus grammar school. That seems to be a sensible way to think about this."

The governor did not specify what percentage of kids would need to be vaccinated before he would begin to phase out mandatory masking, but he suggested other factors would also have to be considered, including infection and hospitalization rates, and whether any new COVID variants had started circulating.

Inspiring Images of NJ Medical Professionals Receiving the COVID-19 Vaccine