Murphy: Decision for remote learning up to school districts as COVID cases rise

Coronavirus Update New Jersey

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Friday, December 31, 2021
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Sonia Rincon has more on New Jersey school districts and how they are dealing with the possibility of remote learning.

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- With some of the largest school districts in New Jersey opting to go remote when they return from holiday break, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state is doing "everything possible to keep kids safely and responsibly in person and in school."

But he acknowledged it is ultimately up to the state's more than 600 school districts "to make the right decision on the ground, depending on what they are facing."

"These numbers are significant," Murphy said, referring to daily record positivity cases.

Asked if numbers could get as high as in the early days of the pandemic, he said, "I think the answer is we could."

State health commissioner Judith Persichilli said the omicron variant is "highly transmissible, some epidemiologists are suggesting that it is as transmissible as measles, measles being the most contagious infectious disease that we know."

At least 10 school districts in Hudson County, including Jersey City, announced their plans to go remote for the first week back from winter break.

And Newark schools will also start the year off with remote learning after the last week of classes in 2021 saw an explosion of cases -- all with signs of an omicron spike.

"The week leading to winter break, which is like the 20th, the 21st, 22nd, the numbers skyrocketed from about 200 to 750," said Superintendent Roger León.

León says as testing continued during the break, the numbers spiked among staff members too, leading to a decision he says he knows isn't popular: Going remote until January 18th in anticipation of a post New Year's surge.

"We want our students back in school as soon as possible," León said. "And I'm just saying to them right now -- you have been here before. We ask you to continue your patience and flexibility during these next two weeks. And we'll get you back in school."

It's the same spike the whole region is experiencing. New Jersey shattered another record with more than 28,000 new cases in the last day -- quadruple what it was two weeks ago.

León is also urging parents to consent to testing and vaccinations for students at school, which will still be available during the remote learning period. He said both students and staff in Newark schools have vaccination rates of over 80%. The cases right now are milder than they were in 2020, when Newark's school district lost 8 employees to COVIDcomplications.

"Four times as many cases than during the height of last winter's surge. And we also know that this is likely an undercount as many residents testing positive through at-home antigen tests aren't necessarily reporting those cases," Murphy said.

Murphy and Persichilli toured a new federal testing site on Friday that they hope will help meet the demand for testing and hopefully stop the spread.

It opens Saturday at 7 a.m. inside the multi-purpose room at East Orange's Division of Senior Services building at 90 Halsted Street.

Testing will be from "7 a.m. to either 5 p.m. or when the testing supplies are exhausted" and will be open to all state residents.

The site can handle up to 1,000 people daily. Results are expected in about 24 hours.

Murphy said there are no changes as far as any state vaccine or mask mandates in New Jersey as of now.

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