Will mask rules be lifted on NJ school busses?
Even as the majority of New Jersey school districts move to make masks voluntary for students and staff, as of now, kids in all districts will still have to mask-up on the school bus.
That is because of federal rules put in place by the Biden administration.
It is possible that is about to change.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday will announce a change to the metrics it uses to determine whether to recommend face coverings, shifting from looking at COVID-19 case counts to a more holistic view of risk from the coronavirus to a community.
Under current guidelines, masks are recommended for people residing in communities of substantial or high transmission — roughly 95% of U.S. counties, according to the latest data.
According to the CDC Data Tracker, all of New Jersey's 21 counties are listed as having a substantial or high transmission risk, despite state health officials reporting a continued drop in COVID metrics and hospitalizations.
The new metrics will still consider caseloads, but also take into account hospitalizations and local hospital capacity, which have been markedly improved.
The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has said a change has been in the works. She tweeted Thursday night that her agencies focus has shifted "to preventing the most severe outcomes and minimizing healthcare strain."
She did not offer any details about the new guidelines, of if they will impact mask rules on public transportation.
When Gov. Phil Murphy announced his mask mandate for schools would expire March 7, he did stress that kids would still have to wear a mask on the school bus due to federal regulations. That frustrated many parents who wanted the mask mandate gone entirely.
Local school districts will have the final say about mask rules inside school buildings and on school property, but not on busses.
Most districts in New Jersey appear ready to allow masks for students and staff to be voluntary, but there are some districts that will keep mask rules in place.
East Orange school officials announced this week that they would keep mask rules in place for students and staff until mid-April.
In a letter to parents, East Orange schools Superintendent AbdulSaleem Hasan said they had polled parents and staff on the mask issue. He said between 80% and 90% supported keeping masks in school.
Newark, Camden and Plainfield schools have also announced they will continue to require masks.
Many of the states largest districts, including Elizabeth, Paterson, Jersey City, Edison, Woodbridge, Trenton, Hamilton (Mercer), New Brunswick, West Windsor-Plainsboro and Vineland have yet to announce a mask policy. Many will decide next week.
The relaxing of mask rules by both the Biden and Murphy administrations is seen as a further move back toward normalcy, and an acknowledgment COVID has transitioned from a pandemic to endemic infection.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.