Chiera: Extending N.J.’s school mask mandate is a must

With Gov. Phil Murphy’s school mask mandate (via Executive Order No. 251) due to expire Jan. 11, AFTNJ President Donna M. Chiera has issued the following statement in support of extending the safety measure in New Jersey’s school buildings:

“As the omicron variant upends any progress New Jersey has made in the fight against COVID, our elected officials should be stepping up safety measures in our school buildings, not decreasing them. Choosing to not extend the mask mandate for students and all school personnel at this point in the pandemic isn’t the AFTNJ’s idea of moving ‘forward,’ to borrow a word from Gov. Phil Murphy’s reelection slogan.

“A few weeks ago, when I visited the New Jersey State House, I was required to wear a mask at all times — and this was when ‘omicron’ was best known to most as a letter in the Greek alphabet. If masking continues to be required inside the building where the New Jersey Legislature does its work, then the same protective measure needs to stay in effect in the buildings where our state’s public education workers do theirs.

“Debbie White, president of our sister local HPAE, says hospitals in New Jersey are already overwhelmed with patients who have developed severe disease from the omicron variant. Lifting the school mask mandate, White adds, ‘will open the door for even more spread of this disease. Caution is needed at a time when a COVID surge of this magnitude is resulting in hospitals becoming unable to handle the skyrocketing influx of patients.’

“Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, your leadership on this matter is crucial, and we are hopeful your actions will be carried out with the health and safety of our teachers, school staff and students as your top priority.”