With the state’s school mask mandate set to expire on March 7, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) issued updated public health recommendations for K-12 settings and child care programs.

“Providing a healthy and safe environment is key to keeping our children in schools. Our recommendations will continue to guide schools and child care providers in determining which COVID-related policies, including masking, are most appropriate for their students and staff based on their community-specific circumstances. While masks will not be required by the state, they remain an important part of a layered approach against COVID-19 and are recommended in certain circumstances,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. “Other layered preventions such as vaccination and boosters, physical distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home when feeling ill continue to be critically important in disease prevention.”

School districts and school boards, as well as child care centers, should consult with their local health department and school nurses in determining whether a universal masking policy is appropriate for their schools and child care centers. Many factors should be considered when making decisions on masking, including a school or child care center’s ability to maintain physical distancing, screen students for COVID, perform contact tracing, exclude students and staff with COVID-19 or who have been exposed, and maintain adequate ventilation.

The vaccination rates of students and staff should also be considered. In addition to school district and child care center policies, staff and parents need to make masking decisions based on their specific situation. Persons who are immunocompromised or at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (or who live with people that are) may choose to continue to wear masks.

For schools and child care centers that choose not to implement a universal masking policy, NJDOH recommends that they require masks in the following circumstances:

  • During periods of elevated community transmission: when the COVID-19 Activity Level Index (CALI) is high (orange), schools and child care centers should strongly consider universal masking for all students and staff, and if very high (red), schools and child care centers should require universal masking.
  • During an active outbreak, if indicated based on consultation with local health department.
  • After returning from isolation or quarantine: children and staff who return to school during days 6-10 of isolation or quarantine should be required to mask. This also applies to child care centers for children ages 2 and older; children under age 2 should remain home for 10 days.
  • When illness occurs in schools or child care centers: children or staff who become ill with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should wear a mask until they leave the premises.
  • During Test to Stay: Students participating in a Test to Stay modified quarantine program should be required to mask.

In addition, masks must be worn by all passengers on buses, including school buses, regardless of vaccination status per the Federal Order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until lifted, the only exception is for children under the age of two, and those who cannot safely wear a mask.

NJDOH launched its Boost NJ2 Week initiative Wednesday, February 23, which runs through Tuesday, March 1, and continues to urge all those who are eligible to get vaccinated or receive a booster dose to ensure the greatest protection against COVID-19. For more information on how to make an appointment visit covid19.nj.gov.