TRENTON — New Jersey has officially adopted the latest federal health guidance for social distancing between students, more than a year since COVID-19 derailed normal school instruction.

If mask wearing and frequent hand washing can be maintained, then 3 feet of distance between students in each classroom can be maintained at elementary schools to help achieve full time, in-person instruction, Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Wednesday at his regular pandemic briefing.

The governor also said that unless "the world goes sideways," families would not have an option to keep students remote in the new school year ahead.

"We are expecting Monday through Friday, in person, every school, every district," Murphy said, when asked about a return to "normal" classes by late summer.

The same 3-foot buffer can be used at the middle and high school grade levels, for schools that are within regions of the state at low and moderate risk levels for viral transmission.

When the COVID-19 Activity Level Index (CALI) score is high within the region, 6 feet will remain the recommended distance for middle and high school grades, state officials said.

For indoor common areas, in particular cafeterias, social distance of 6 feet between students still would be required.

More than two-thirds of students are back in classrooms in some form, Murphy announced, as 143 schools or districts have reported they are open for all-person instruction. Another 534 are open for hybrid instruction, while 44 are some combination of instruction models.

As of Wednesday, 90 schools or districts remained on all-remote instruction, which accounts for 301,856 students, the governor said.

“We know there has been learning loss in these scenarios, especially,” Murphy said. “There’s been learning loss up and down our state and across our country.”

State officials have been working directly with those all-remote districts, where students have been out of classrooms for more than a full year at this point, to try and facilitate a return in some capacity, he added.

“We all recognize this has been an extraordinarily stressful school year,” Murphy said, while noting that pharmacies around the state — CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens – have vaccinated roughly 34,500 educators across 370 educator-specific clinics since March 5.

In addition to those doses through the federal pharmacy vaccine program, others have been vaccinated at the state’s mega-sites and other vaccine points of distribution statewide.

There have been 890 confirmed cases of the virus linked to in-school spread since August, fewer than .2% of all cases in eight months of school, Murphy said at the same briefing.

That's up from a week ago, when the state had still reported a cumulative total of 804 cases of confirmed coronavirus linked to 173 school outbreaks, since August.


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