New Jersey Day Care Center

Republished courtesy of  New Jersey Monitor

New Jersey’s child care workers must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1 or face regular testing, and all employees, visitors, and children older than 2 must wear face masks in day care centers at all times, Gov. Phil Murphy announced during a press briefing Monday.

The mandates come as the Delta variant fuels a rise of COVID-19 cases in the Garden State and across the country. Officials reported 1,392 confirmed cases in New Jersey Monday, more than double the case count from two months ago.

“We know there are already many child care providers who are doing their utmost to protect the children in their care, their employees, and their communities, and we thank them. This order ensures that everyone is abiding by the same strong standards,” said Murphy, a Democrat up for re-election in November.

The mandates didn’t come as a surprise. Murphy has already required all health care workers, teachers, and state employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. Mask mandates are also in place in schools across the state.

The new testing and masking rules go into effect Friday.

Murphy admitted it could be difficult to convince a 2-year-old to keep their mask on, and noted day cares would need to be regulated different than public schools. In those schools, each district can decide how to enforce mask wearing and how harsh penalties for noncompliance should be.

“We’re going to rely on folks doing the right thing. They’re regulated so we have an opportunity to make sure they’re regulated, and that includes from a health perspective,” he said.

Murphy’s previous vaccinate-or-get-tested mandate applied to child care centers associated with school boards. The newest one affects all day cares.

The child care industry has faced critical staffing problems for years that worsened during the pandemic. Child care services are down 126,700 workers nationally, more than a 10% drop from pre-pandemic levels, the Washington Post reported.

More than 10,000 workers have left the industry since June, largely to seek higher paying jobs, becoming bank tellers, teachers, nannyies, and more.

According to the New Jersey Department of Labor, the chid care workforce has been cut by more than a quarter since 2019. Fewer than 30,000 people are employed in the industry, down from more than 40,000 two years ago.

Caregiving jobs are taken on largely by women, who research shows have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. More than 2 million women have left the workforce since March 2020, in part due to schools shuttering. More than 7 million adults haven’t returned to work, citing child care as the main reason, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

At Monday’s press conference, Murphy also announced the state is waiting on final guidance on booster shots for certain at-risk groups who received the Pfizer jab.