As of Tuesday, Dec. 7, about 70% of New Jersey state employees across 50 departments, agencies, authorities and commissions were fully vaccinated, Gov. Phil Murphy said during a Dec. 13 media briefing that sounded the alarm on a rising number of COVID-19 cases throughout the state.

Asked whether he’s satisfied with the number of state employees who’ve been vaccinated, Murphy said “The results are a starting place, not where we will end up.” The state continues to work with agencies, departments, public employee unions and others to boost the vaccination rate, he said. While there was no news on booster requirements, Murphy noted it “has been a discussion.”

New Jersey schools have also seen more cases of COVID-19 over the past several weeks, according to Murphy. “This is in line with the increase we’ve been seeing generally, yet these numbers are still in the range of where we believe the layered approach to protection we’ve taken in our schools has kept in-school transmission in check,” he said.

Murphy noted that while there have been outbreaks at 248 school buildings, that is still a fraction of the more than 3,500 school buildings throughout the state.

The hospitalization rate for unvaccinated individuals is more than six times that of vaccinated individuals, Murphy said. With that said, 20% of hospitalized individuals are vaccinated “and most likely are infected due to decreasing immunity,” said Judith Persichilli, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health. That waning immunity, she said, is why it’s so important for people to get a booster shot.

Asked about the mask mandate in schools, Parimal Garg, chief counsel for New Jersey, noted that the mandate was recently upheld by a federal district court. “We’re very confident it’s on sound legal footing,” he said.

Murphy signaled the mandate will remain in place – for now. “Right now, if you were to say you’d pull the school masks mandate away for whatever reason – either a legal reason or volitionally, I think that would be irresponsible and almost certainly more people would get sick,” Murphy said. “And my guess is that schools would have to shut down. We don’t have it on there just for the fun of it, sadly. It’s on there for a reason. Again, part of the reason is the younger people have only recently become eligible (for the vaccine) and it is my fervent hope that we can lift it at some point responsibly, sooner than later, but we’ve got to do it responsibly. We know for a fact that we get to that day sooner if more people get vaccinated and more people get boosted.”

The New Jersey Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard includes data on COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities. Visit the dashboard and select “Schools” at the top of the menu bar to review the latest data.