The official number of COVID outbreaks at New Jersey schools has now gone up to 39, in 38 communities across 16 counties, with 219 students, teachers and support staff testing positive for the virus.

That’s more than double the number of positive cases in New Jersey last week.

Additionally, there are 890 students and school staff in Toms River that are currently quarantining because of a significant COVID outbreak in that school district, and none of those cases have so far been counted in the state school data.

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said “these cases are still being reviewed, and the local health department is working with the school district to determine mitigation efforts.”

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Gov. Phil Murphy said while the situation in Toms River is investigated, “we continue to work with all of our educational communities and local health partners to identify instances of in-school transmission, to minimize the impact and keep our schools safe spaces for learning.”

Persichilli said to help ensure our schools can stay open, “we must all take a concerted effort to get more young people vaccinated."

She said the data clearly shows the virus spreads faster and causes more severe disease among the unvaccinated.

“High vaccination rates among those 12 to 17 years of age and school staff are vital to keeping our schools safe and open," she added.

The governor said even with the number of outbreaks and positive cases rising, efforts will continue full speed ahead to keep schools open.

He said with virtual learning “the learning loss we know is overwhelming, the mental health aspects we know were overwhelming, we do that only as a last resort.”

New Jersey state epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan says school nurses are identifying students and teachers who may have had a COVID exposure from someone else in school, but they need help from cooperative parents and students.

The governor said it’s too soon to speculate whether the decision by the Toms River school district to make masks voluntary at the start of the school year, because of an “excessive heat” declaration made by those educators, had anything to do with their current situation.

Murphy added a COVID outbreak in Passaic County involving 50 students is also currently being investigated.

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