First day of school at West Belmar Elementary School in Wall Township on Wednesday Sept. 16, 2020. School principal Anthony Abeal greets students on the first day of school. (MARK R. SULLIVAN/THE COAST STAR)

TRENTON- Revised guidance from the New Jersey Department of Health reduces social distancing from six to three feet, as long as proper hand washing protocols are followed and masks are worn.

On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy said that the department’s revised guidance applies to all elementary grade levels, across all levels of COVID-19 risk. It also applies to middle and high school grade classes who are in regions that have a low or moderate risk of COVID-19.

In all schools, the governor said, “six feet of distance is critical in indoor common areas when masks or not an option” such as during lunch.

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“Now is the time for all of our schools to meaningfully move forward with a return to in-person instruction, whether it be full time or through hybrid instruction,” he said.

The state issues a report on COVID-19 risk in regions throughout the state. Southern regions of the state are labeled as moderate risk, while central and northern regions, Monmouth and Ocean counties are in the central east region, are deemed to be high risk.

Across the state, only 90 of more than 700 schools, educating roughly 302,000 students, have all-remote learning. Judith Persichilli, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health, said that in-person spread of COVID-19 “has not been associated with substantial community transmission although outbreaks do occur in school settings.”

Commissioner Persichilli added that middle and high school students have a “higher incidence of transmission” than younger students.

Schools that have already opened up for full-time in-person instruction with their current reopening plan may continue to do so, so six-feet of social distancing should continue to be adhered to.

When asked a question during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing if parents will be allowed to have their children continue virtual learning next school year, Gov. Murphy said that will not be allowed.

“As we are sitting here now no, I want to be unequivocal about this,” the governor said. “We are expecting Monday through Friday, every school, every district. Obviously, if the world goes sideways we have to revisit that.”

On Wednesday the state reported 3,638,000 vaccines administered in the Garden State, with 1.3 million individuals fully vaccinated.

The governor said that he hoped the state was heading into its last week of limited vaccine supply before federal allotments increase. The governor had in previous weeks said that he expected a “quantum leap” in vaccine doses arriving in New Jersey in April increased shipments from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

While state officials hope that the amount of vaccine doses increases, an elevated rate of transmission and hospitalizations in New Jersey is a worrying sign.

The rate of infection in New Jersey was recorded at 1.09 on Wednesday, meaning that each person infected with COVID-19 on average spreads the virus to one other person. Hospitalizations, which for weeks have stayed under the 2,000 mark, were recorded at 2,136 patients. Of those patients, 430 are in intensive care units and 218 ventilators are in use.

“Given the stubbornness of our case numbers and the increases in the rate of transmission … more than anything they speak to our need to keep wearing our mask, keeping social distancing, washing our hands and using common sense,” he said, adding that applies to individuals who are fully vaccinated as well.

More than 3,200 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total since March to 774,100, and 28 newly confirmed deaths brings the death toll to 21, 757. Probable deaths, which the state believes are linked to COVID-19 and not included in the total number, are reported to be 2,535.

Increases in those metrics make the state question further rising capacity limits, like last Friday when indoor business capacity increased to 50 percent and well as indoor and outdoor gathering limits.

Follow local coronavirus news at: https://starnewsgroup.com/coronavirus/

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