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NEW JERSEY — In a reversal of plans, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday announced a mask mandate in schools for the upcoming academic year.

Murphy announced the mask requirement, attributing the change in plans to the rampant spread of the delta variant, the fact that children under 12 are not eligible for vaccinations, and many of those 12 and older remain unvaccinated.

“The health and safety of our kids is among, if not my most, sacred responsibility as it is, by the way, of any governor,” Murphy said.

“We understand that students learn best in a classroom setting and remain committed to having our schools open for full-time, in-person instruction this fall,” said Gov. Murphy. “While this announcement gives us no pleasure, I know that by taking this precaution we can keep our schools open while also keeping our children safe. We will continue to closely monitor the science and data and will lift this mandate when we can do so safely. I urge those who are eligible for vaccination but have yet to be vaccinated to act and help move our state in the right direction.”

As soon as conditions allow, the mandate will be lifted, according to Murphy.

The change comes amid a concerning spike in cases connected with the delta variant of COVID and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to mask up in schools. In late June, Murphy had said masks would not be mandatory unless there was a “dramatic change in our situation.”

A month later, when CDC changed its own masking guidance, Gov. Murphy and New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said that people, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, were “strongly recommended” to mask up indoors.

Exceptions to the school mask requirement include those exposed to excessive heat or participating in high-intensity physical activities, when an individual has trouble breathing, is unconscious or unable to remove a face covering without assistance as well as when eating and drinking and playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering.