FILE - NJ Phil Murphy 2-23-2021

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy delivers his annual budget address Feb. 23, 2021.

(The Center Square) – New Jersey students largely will continue to go to school in person, but they will wear masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

During a virtual press briefing, Murphy said the state has “no desire to return to remote learning, which is suboptimal as we all know in terms of learning, instruction, and learning loss.” While the state has no plans to shutter schools, some New Jersey schools planned to start the new year with virtual classes.

State officials held their briefing virtually after First Lady Tammy Murphy tested positive for COVID-19. During the briefing, the governor said he tested negative.

“This Omicron tsunami has changed the game yet again. We cannot summarily give up the fight,” Murphy said during the briefing. “We need to remain on a war footing to ensure that we can get resources to where they need to be and when they need to be there, and yes, this means that we anticipate our kids having to wear masks in their schools for now in order to protect their health and safety and ensure that they can continue in-person learning.

“This brings us absolutely no joy,” Murphy added. “No one wants to see our kids’ smiles more than I do, but this is what is necessary now to keep our schools safe. ...With the exponential surge in our numbers, it would be the height of irresponsibility to lift these basic public health requirements at this time, … and we will not let that happen.”

According to the governor, state hospitals reported 4,715 hospitalizations because of COVID-19 on Sunday night; the peak in April 2020 was 8,270. Additionally, state hospitals had 644 patients in the ICU; the peak in April 2020 was 2,080.

Meanwhile, the state has launched its Test to Stay program for unvaccinated students to continue to attend in-person classes.

“Test to Stay allows asymptomatic, unvaccinated students who were exposed to a person with COVID-19 in any school setting where students are supervised by school staff indoors, outdoors, or on school buses to continue in-person academic activities that are part of the regular school curriculum and provided during school hours,” New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during the briefing.

“Students participating in Test to Stay are required to comply with enhanced testing and masking recommendations and should quarantine when not in school,” Persichilli added. “If schools are considering implementing Test to Stay policies, they should have robust contact tracing in place and access to testing resources.”