😷 A new variant is driving a spike in COVID infections

😷 Some U.S. schools have already imposed restrictions

😷 Any return to masking policies will be controversial in NJ

With infections from a new COVID variant surging across the U.S. and doctors warning of a tripledemic just as the new school year begins, there are concerns about a return to controversial pandemic restrictions.

School officials in Kentucky and South Texas have already announced restrictions for students and staff in some schools as classes resume.

So far, no statewide policy has been announced for New Jersey and no local school districts have announced any changes before classes begin in September.

Connecticut Students Return To School With Hybrid Model During COVID-19 Pandemic
Getty Images

New variant is driving uptick in COVID infections

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a 21.6% increase in the number of COVID hospitalizations and believe that is being driven by BA.2.86.

A highly mutated variant, BA.2.86 (nicknamed "Pirola" on social media) is as aggressive as the Omicron variant was in 2021.

AP/Canva/Townsquare Media illustration
AP/Canva/Townsquare Media illustration

The World Health Organization reports it has been detected in multiple countries.

It is known to be present in at last three U.S. States, but state health officials have not confirmed cases in New Jersey.

As scientists rush to dissect and understand this latest mutation, some have called for a return to precautionary restrictions.

COVID just part of the worry

Doctors are warning of a so-called tripledemic ahead of the new school year that includes flu, RSV and COVID-19.

After Labor Day and when kids are back in school, there is fear infection rates for all three will rise.

School Classrooom
Flickr User Matt McGee

Health officials note infection rates have been lower this summer as people spend more time outdoors and less time in confined spaces.

As Fall arrives and school begins, that will change.

Fortunately, doctors say, there are vaccines for all three viruses.

FILE - In this June 6, 2021 file photo, a youth receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the central Israeli city of Rishon LeZion. The pharmaceuticals Pfizer and BioNTech say they have requested that their coronavirus vaccine be licensed for children aged 5 to 11 across the European Union. If authorized, it would be the first opportunity for younger children in Europe to be get immunized against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
FILE - In this June 6, 2021 file photo, a youth receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine  (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

It is not known yet how effective the flu vaccine will be this year or whether the new COVID-19 vaccine will protect against this latest mutation.

What does that mean for New Jersey?

For now, it doesn't mean anything. That could change, however.

When Gov. Phil Murphy lifted his school masking mandate for New Jersey schools on March 7, 2022, it came with a warning.

Judith Persichilli
Judith Persichilli (POOL: Michael Mancuso, NJ.com)

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said at the time, "Taking masks off doesn’t mean that other strategies should be abandoned. In fact, they become more important. So, please continue to wash your hands frequently, physically distance, stay home when you’re sick, and get vaccinated and boosted to protect yourselves, your families, your friends, and our children."

In terms of this new school year, Murphy has not said anything about the return of mask mandates or other restrictions. He has said in the past that "all options remain on the table" if there in a new threat.

Photo provided by Patti Nawolski
Photo provided by Patti Nawolski

A blanket policy from the state is not likely any time soon. As parents and school districts became more frustrated with state mandates, Murphy largely left decisions about how to safeguard students in the hands of local school districts.

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