On June 3, the state Senate and Assembly approved legislation to end the public health emergency that’s been in place since March 2020, while also establishing a pathway for lifting the myriad executive orders the governor has issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Friday, June 4, Gov. Murphy signed the bill into law and also issued Executive Order No. 244, which formally ends the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Under the legislation (A-5820/S-3866), which passed largely along party lines, most of the executive orders related to the pandemic will expire 30 days following the bill’s signing. The remainder will remain in place until Jan. 1, 2022, although the governor could act sooner on any of those. None of those that will remain in place directly concern school operations. On that note, the governor already announced last month that upon the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year, portions of Executive Order 175 allowing remote learning would be rescinded. Instead, schools will be required to provide full-day, in-person instruction, as they were prior to the public health emergency. Furthermore, student mask-wearing will remain in place in accordance with federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

The law also prohibits the governor from implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies (i.e., face coverings, social distancing, and gathering limitations) that are more restrictive than the recommendations provided in the federal CDC guidelines, unless a substantial increase in hospitalizations, substantially increased spot positivity, or a high rate of transmission necessitates a modification that would be more restrictive.

The law also authorizes the Murphy administration to issue orders, directives, and waivers under the authority in the Emergency Health Powers Act that are related to:

  • vaccination efforts;
  • testing;
  • health resource and personnel allocation;
  • data collection, retention, sharing, and access;
  • coordination of local health departments;
  • and implementation of any CDC recommendations to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

This authority lasts until January 11, 2022, and can be extended for 90 days with the passage of a concurrent resolution by the Legislature.

The NJSBA will continue to monitor this significant development and report on any impact it may have on local boards of education.