How hot is too hot to wear a mask in school?
New Jersey students are required to wear masks in school, but the mandate can be lifted by local districts in certain situations.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 251 states masks will have to be worn in school, but there can be exceptions to this rule, including “when doing so would inhibit the individual’s health, such as when the individual is exposed to extreme heat indoors.”
During the governor’s coronavirus update in Trenton on Wednesday, Murphy was asked if this means schools have the power to decide to unmask students. “That does qualify, if there is excessive heat then folks have the right to do that.”
So what temperature range falls under excessive heat?
“It’s really hard to put a specific number on what the temperature has to be," said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. "We do know that kids do become very uncomfortable, as we all do with masks on when it’s really hot and humid.”
Persichilli stressed that people have to trust that educators will make the right decisions for their students.
For school districts that take the excessive heat allowance too far, Murphy issued a stern warning. "Please don’t play games with us, don’t use that as the excuse cause you don’t want, you’ve got people who don’t want us to be wearing masks.”
Persichilli said if the decision is made to have kids take off their masks because of hot temperatures they should be reminded to “wash their hands frequently, physically distance, open the windows, keep ventilation up in the classroom, move classes outside.”
The governor agreed, adding that if it's warm enough for masks to be off it's also warm enough for classes to be held outside.
Dr. Ed Lifshitz, director of communicable disease services for the state Health Department, said common sense needs to be part of the equation for educators.
“Obviously 75 and humid is different than 75 in the shade on a nice cool day, and yes we do rely on them to know what’s happening,” he said.
Murphy pointed out a recent Monmouth University Poll found 69% of parents agree with having kids wear masks in school.
"Masking is not a forever thing, but it’s what we need to rely on now as the delta variant continues to impact communities and many of our students,” Murphy said.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at firstname.lastname@example.org.