NJ to require COVID vaccine or regular tests for all school employees

New Jersey will require all school teachers, staff, and personnel for preschool through grade 12 to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Oct. 18 or to undergo COVID tests at least once a week, announced Gov. Phil Murphy Monday.

"This order applies to all public, private, and parochial preschool programs elementary and secondary schools including charter and renaissance schools. It applies to all individuals employed by a school regardless of whether they work full time or part-time," said Murphy during a briefing on the pandemic.

Administrators, educators, educational support professionals, food providers, substitute teachers, custodial workers, and all other school employees will be required to follow the mandate.

New Jersey has about 130,000 public school teachers, 1.3 million public school students, and an estimated 70,000 state workers.

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"Scientific data shows that vaccination and testing requirements, coupled with strong masking policies, are the best tools for keeping our schools and communities safe for in-person activities," said Murphy.

New Jersey joins California, Connecticut, and Washington to require teacher vaccinations. Connecticut also called for state workers to be vaccinated. New York City on Monday mandated vaccinations for teachers, but its requirement doesn't allow for opting out.

Murphy, a Democrat running for reelection this year, announced the move just as schools across the state prepare to begin the new academic year.

The decision follows an announcement earlier this month to require staff, students, and visitors to wear masks on school grounds.

It’s unclear what percentage of teachers, school personnel and state workers in New Jersey are already vaccinated, but the state has among the country's highest percentages of people fully vaccinated. Seventy percent of those 12 or older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, that figure stands at about 60%.

Murphy said Monday that his administration has heard from local reports that an overwhelming majority of teachers are already vaccinated.

New Jersey health care workers were also required to get vaccinated or undergo regular testing in an executive order Murphy announced earlier this summer.

The state's biggest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, supported the order.

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"This Executive Order is another example of Gov. Murphy’s unwavering commitment to health and safety of NJEA members and the students we serve," said union President-elect Sean Spiller.

The state's School Nurses Association and the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics also supported the decision.

California has called for a similar vaccination requirement, but with an option for testing. Washington state also has a vaccination requirement, but the governor has said teachers could risk losing their jobs if they don't comply. Connecticut teachers and state workers must get regular test if they don't have a religious or medical exemption.

The mandate comes as the contagious delta variant is leading to higher positivity rates across the country. There are more cases and hospitalizations in New Jersey as well, but far lower than at the peak in the spring of 2020.

Health officials have also said that most of those going into the hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

With the Associated Press