Noting local control of schools districts, Gov. Phil Murphy is allowing schools to open in-person, virtually or a combination of both this school year as the spread of COVID-19 continues.
The first-term Democrat made the announce during his Wednesday afternoon coronavirus news conference where he announced a slight uptick of nearly 500 new COVID-19 cases, but a daily spot positivity rate just over 2%. That means that the vast majority of the people tested didn't have the virus.
Data continues to play a role in the reopening of the economy and schools.
Schools covering Pre-K to 12th grade, universities and colleges will be permitted to open this fall with health standards aimed at slowing the virus in place. Garden State school districts will be permitted to operate virtually if they can't meet health standards for in-person instruction, Murphy said.
"When our schools open in September, they must be ready to safely provide the high-quality education to all students that is a hallmark of New Jersey," Murphy said. "We know the first day of school is not going to be like any other in our history. We’re fully committed to getting this right."
The spread of the virus has slowed in recent days with the rate of transmission down to 0.92 as of Wednesday. That means the average number of people infected by an infectious person is less than 1.
As of Wednesday, New Jersey had reported nearly 186,000 COVID-19 cases since the state of the outbreak. At least 14,046 deaths were being attributed to the virus with another 1,800-plus deaths suspected of being related to coronavirus. Nine more confirmed deaths were reported Wednesday.
Despite cases in New Jersey being fairly stable for weeks, there have been issues in other states where schools opened for in-person instruction recently. There had been concerns expressed by teachers about the safety of in-person learning as COVID-19 continues to spread.
"Our goal has not changed," Murphy said. "Our commitment to meeting the conditions on the ground with flexibility has not changed. Our focus on protecting students, families, and educators has not changed."
Throughout the fall, Murphy's guidance on schools could change, he said.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said that the spread of the virus will be broken up into six regions throughout the state and that data will help guide schools. Depending on community risk there will be green, yellow, orange and red risk levels based on weekly criteria about the number of cases, percent positivity and other factors.
The color-coded system will offer guidance on a more local basis.
Persichilli said that she met with members of the United States Department of Health and Human Services Department Wednesday as the federal agency looks at the virus response in Ocean County, due to concerns it could become a hot spot. HHS is expected to return a report not only on Ocean County, but also Atlantic County.