As the state faces a growing winter surge in the COVID-19 pandemic, cases among students and school staff in New Jersey rose at least 41% last week compared to the previous week.
The state on Thursday reported another 9,808 confirmed positive tests among students (7,716) and school staff members (2,029) for the week ending Dec. 19, according to new numbers that track infections regardless of where the transmission occurred.
And that’s just among the 61% of schools providing data.
That mirrors statewide coronavirus trends. Cases across New Jersey were up 39% week over week as of Dec. 19.
About 1 in 4 cases statewide for that week were among school students or staff.
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Since the start of the academic year, there have been 44,532 students and 10,274 school staff members in New Jersey who have contracted COVID-19.
The state provides total student and staff cases separately from those deemed to be in-school transmission, which is narrowly defined as three or more cases linked through contact tracing.
This all comes as some school districts in New Jersey have switched or are considering to switch back to remote learning as the pandemic spikes again.
Paterson announced this week it would go back to virtual learning after winter break.
In Newark, the state’s largest school district, the superintendent on Monday sent a letter to staff members and parents preparing them for the possibility of returning to remote learning after the holiday break.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday state officials will do “everything we can” to keep having in-person classes in schools across New Jersey after the holiday break.
“We know the impact of learning loss has been overwhelming, particularly in underserved communities,” Murphy told NJ Advance Media. “We’re going to do everything we can to stay in person, obviously safely and responsibly.”
CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: Live map tracker | Newsletter | Homepage
Murphy also pointed to how the state is setting up a pilot program in January that will allow students exposed to COVID-19 to stay in the classroom even if a classmate or teacher tests positive.
The program — known as “test and stay” or “test to stay” — will allow students who were in close contact with someone who tested positive to take a series of rapid COVID tests over several days at school before entering the classroom. If they test negative, they can stay at school and do not need to quarantine.
“I think this pilot we’re going do test-to-stay, with now the endorsement of the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), that’s another weapon we can now use,” Murphy said.
“So my fervent hope is we don’t have to” go virtual again, the governor added.
New Jersey on Thursday shattered its single-day record for coronavirus cases for a second straight day, reporting another 15,482 confirmed positive tests — in addition to another 33 confirmed deaths a day before Christmas Eve.
The state’s seven-day average for new confirmed positive tests jimped to 8,240, up 100% from a week ago and 386% from a month ago.
Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations also continue to increase, topping 2,200 for the first time in more than eight months.
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Brent Johnson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnsb01.