TRENTON — Just two months after saying that masks would not be required in schools in the fall, Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday is expected to change course.

Published reports on NJ.com and the Asbury Park Press say Murphy will lay out his guidelines and reasoning during a 1:15 p.m. news conference. The reports cited unnamed administration officials.

In late June, Murphy said the state would be leaving it up to individual districts to decide — with the exception of school buses, which would still require students to wear face coverings. But that was before the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus began spreading, spiking the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

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But while many school leaders and parents had been clamoring for Murphy to lift the mask requirement in schools before the school year ended, the state's largest teachers union called on Murphy to once again impose universal masking in schools next school year.

Last month, the CDC updated its guidance to recommend that people, including those who are vaccinated, to wear masks indoors. But the Murphy administration has resisted calls to reimpose that mandate in New Jersey. Instead, Murphy and Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli last week issued a statement to "strongly encourage" residents and visitors to mask up indoors.

As of Wednesday, New Jersey has four counties — Cape May, Cumberland, Burlington and Monmouth — with a high level of community transmission of COVID-19, according to the CDC. All other counties were at a substantial level, with the exception of Warren, which continued to be moderate. Vaccinated and unvaccinated people in counties with high and substantial levels of transmission are urged by the CDC to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

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