With a growing number of New Jersey K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities opting to back to remote classes due to a spike in COVID cases, 2022 could end up looking a lot like 2020.

Gov. Phil Murphy vowed on Tuesday to do everything he can to keep in-person learning going in the new year. After a event on healthcare affordability in Trenton, Murphy talked about steps being taken to keep kids in classrooms.

He pointed to a new "test to stay" program that would allow kids who had close contact to an infected person in school to remain in class as a tool they will deploy in January.

Murphy has made in-person learning a priority as New Jersey recovers from the pandemic, and noted, "The impact of learning loss has been overwhelming, particularly in undeserved communities."

As school began in September, the governor made it clear he expected all schools to return to in-person learning full-time, and remote classes would no longer be an option. What about now? Murphy was non-committal when asked about giving schools more flexibility to go remote if COVID cases continued to rise in school buildings and communities.

The debate about the risks of in-person learning has been going on for weeks as a new wave of infections washes over the United States.

Dan Domenech, executive director of the national School Superintendents Association told USA TODAY he feared "a return, basically, to a good portion of how things looked last year."

Domenech said schools want to stay open, "But it's a logistical nightmare."

The Winter break comes at an opportune time in New Jersey. It gives schools a chance to, hopefully, finish quarantines of students and staff and evaluate safety measures that are in place or should be added to assure a safe learning environment.

As of Dec. 15, New Jersey health officials were reporting 294 cumulative school outbreaks. Every county has seen multiple outbreaks, with the exception of Burlington County.

Bergen County has seen the most school outbreaks, with 32. COVID cases have increased nearly 70% in Bergen over the last seven days.

Atlantic County is number two with 28 outbreaks. COVID cases have increased 28% in Atlantic County.

Monmouth County in number three, with 26 outbreaks. COVID cases have increased 43% in Monmouth over the last seven days.

Cumulative COVID outbreaks in New Jersey schools (as of Dec. 15)

  • 28 outbreaks in Atlantic County; with 107 linked cases
  • 32 outbreaks in Bergen County; with 139 linked cases
  • 0 outbreaks in Burlington County
  • 26 outbreaks in Camden County; with 213 linked cases
  • 8 outbreaks in Cape May County; with 32 linked cases
  • 10 outbreaks in Cumberland County; with 56 linked cases
  • 16 outbreaks in Essex County; with 82 linked cases
  • 7 outbreaks in Gloucester County; with 44 linked cases
  • 13 outbreaks in Hudson County; with 53 linked cases
  • 5 outbreaks in Hunterdon County; with 40 linked cases
  • 18 outbreaks in Mercer County; with 91 linked cases
  • 3 outbreaks in Middlesex County; with 46 linked cases
  • 26 outbreaks in Monmouth County; with 127 linked cases
  • 19 outbreaks in Morris County; with 118 linked cases
  • 16 outbreaks in Ocean County; with 81 linked cases
  • 14 outbreaks in Passaic County; with 136 linked cases
  • 7 outbreaks in Salem County; with 25 linked cases
  • 13 outbreaks in Somerset County; with 68 linked cases
  • 24 outbreaks in Sussex County; with 105 linked cases
  • 7 outbreaks in Union County; with 43 linked cases
  • 2 outbreaks in Warren County; with 12 linked cases

Higher education is also dealing with outbreaks on campuses in New Jersey. Most colleges and universities moved classes and final exams back on-line before Winter break.

The College of New Jersey announced Tuesday that students would remain remote through the end of this semester, but still planned to start the Spring semester in-person on January 24.

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