NJ health officials urge vaccine rule for extracurricular school activities
As schools across the southern half of New Jersey announced closures on Monday due to the first winter storm of the season, others opted not to reopen following the holiday break citing the surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Red Bank Borough Public Schools said in a message posted to the district website that "the high volume of reported COVID-19 related issues" prompted the use of an emergency closure day, and that another might be used, or schools could pivot to either remote learning or a "minimum" school day with "grab and go" meals offered, if the situation warranted.
NJ.com reported that several dozen school districts dotting the Garden State had already told families they would not be reopening school buildings to begin 2022.
In another NJ.com article, the New Jersey Education Association said schools needed to look "carefully and honestly" at whether staying open was the right thing to do. The teachers' union said it supports districts that are going remote at this time.
Gov. Phil Murphy, whose wife Tammy received a positive COVID result from a rapid test over the weekend, has so far left the decision on whether or not to keep schools open up to the individual districts.
But cases were rising sharply in New Jersey schools before the holidays, and with hospitalizations now at their highest level statewide since early May 2020, in the opening weeks of the pandemic, there is growing evidence that children are increasingly among those needing treatment outside the home.
Gov. Murphy's regularly scheduled COVID briefing will be held virtually at 1 p.m. Monday.
On Thursday, the New Jersey Department of Health, citing "very high" COVID activity levels in at least three state regions, recommended that participation in school extracurricular activities be limited to students and staff with up-to-date vaccinations. What counts as up-to-date for each age group is based on recommendations from the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
Among the most recent suggestions on that list are use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children as young as age 5, booster doses for adults whose primary series was completed either two (for Johnson & Johnson) or six (Pfizer or Moderna) months prior, and a preference for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be used over the Johnson & Johnson one-dose shot.
NJDOH also recommended that all students and staff participating in extracurriculars, regardless of vaccination stats, be tested twice weekly for COVID.