TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Staff members and students from kindergarten to 12th grade will be required to wear masks in New Jersey schools when the new year begins in a few weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy is set to announce Friday as COVID-19 cases rise in the state.

The decision to require masks is an about-face from just a few weeks ago when Murphy said it would take a “deterioration” of COVID-19 data to require masks. Murphy’s spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna confirmed that the governor planned to announce the requirement.

The state’s figures, like many across the country, have been trending up in recent weeks. The seven-day rolling average of new cases climbed over the past two weeks from 512 on July 20 to 1,104 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The surging figures are part of a nationwide struggle with the contagious delta variant, which has been leading — along with vaccination holdouts — to higher hospitalization rates across the country.

The decision also comes as states across the country grapple with masking in schools.

In Florida, two school districts have decided to require masks when children return to classrooms because of dramatic rises in coronavirus infections, with the state leading the country in hospitalizations. That’s despite a statewide ban on masks by the governor.


In Arizona, at least three school districts are defying the state’s prohibition on masks, despite a recently enacted law barring face covering requirements.

It’s unclear whether any of New Jersey’s roughly 600 school districts will be permitted to depart from Murphy’s expected order on Friday.

Unlike other places in the country, though, New Jersey’s vaccination rate is among the highest in the nation. Nationwide, the percentage of adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19 stands at nearly 61%. In New Jersey, the rate is 71%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New Jersey was an early hotspot in March 2020, and the state’s positive cases and hospitalizations haven’t reached the high levels they did early on in the outbreak, but they’re higher than they were a few months ago as vaccinations became more widely available.

The mandate from Murphy, a Democrat seeking reelection this year, comes amid pushback against masks in schools, particularly among some Republicans and parents who worry about the effects masks could have on their children’s psychological and physical health.

Earlier this week, Murphy argued back with protesters skeptical about vaccinations at a public event. “You’ve lost your minds,” Murphy said, “You are the ultimate knuckleheads.”