‘Too early to assess’ school reopenings amid Covid-19 surge

With New Jersey having recorded up to seven Covid-19 outbreaks in schools since the start of the academic year, it will likely take a few weeks before state officials can assess how well facilities have fared at preventing infections since the return to full-time, in-person instruction, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.

“I think it’s a little bit too early to assess,” the governor said during an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “We need several weeks, I think, under our belt.”

Key context: Health officials had identified six outbreaks with three or more cases linked to in-person instruction as of Wednesday afternoon, Murphy said during his regular Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday. Of those outbreaks, two were reported in Atlantic County and one each was reported in Cumberland, Monmouth, Morris and Union counties.

Health officials were looking into another possible outbreak in a small South Jersey school district identified late Wednesday, the governor said on CNBC.

At least 20 students and staff have been infected at schools, according to administration officials. That does not include students and staff who have tested positive after possible exposures elsewhere.

Most districts began the new school year late last week.

Why it matters: In-school transmission did not represent a major source of spread during the previous academic year, when a majority of school districts offered in-person instruction either full time or on a hybrid basis.

However, with vaccines unavailable to children aged 12 and younger and the Delta variant causing a spike in pediatric cases and hospitalizations, Murphy has opted to reimpose safety measures like mandatory face coverings and a vaccine-or-test requirement for teachers.