With most New Jersey schools re-opening for full-time, in-person instruction in a couple of weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced all pre-school through grade 12 school personnel must be fully vaccinated by October 18 or face mandatory COVID testing at least once or twice a week.

But the master plan to keep Garden State schools open and operational this fall includes other steps as well.

During the latest COVID update Murphy said “we know that strong masking and vaccination protocols in tandem with other safety measures are our best consolidated tool for keeping our schools open.”

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said to get more 12- to 17-year-olds vaccinated, her Department in recent weeks has worked with municipal health and school officials and community partners on a major back to school push “to expand access for adolescents, through 120 pop-up sites and 20 static sites located in schools and in close proximity to schools.”

She noted 53% of 12- to 17-year-olds in New Jersey have received at least one dose of vaccine, a 3% increase in the past week, but 323,000 eligible adolescents remain unvaccinated and” we must do better.”

She said updated guidance, entitled The Road Forward, Health and Safety Guidance for the 2021-2022 School Year, makes clear that “a layered approach of preventive measures is best, and that includes masking, physical distancing, testing and staying home when you’re sick.”

She said the guidance directs schools “to work with local health officials on testing strategies in K-12 schools and when students or staff are ill and have potential COVID-19 exposures.”

She stressed local health officials will offer guidance on steps to take in those instances.

Persichilli said the guidance also indicates “children and staff with COVID-19 symptoms should be separated from others until they can be sent home and referred to healthcare providers.”

Murphy said the reason for all of these steps is to keep all students and staff healthy and keep schools open “with masks, again that doesn’t bring me any joy to say that, but it must be that way.’

He noted schools are also taking other steps to improve safety, such as “investing in HVAC systems, or the simple stuff like one way traffic in stairways or halls, we think that taken together is the right package.”

The governor said everything possible will be done to keep kids and school personnel safe and school buildings open, but if virtual learning becomes necessary “we now know how to do this and do it quickly, so if it came it, we know the playbook.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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