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New Jersey health officials are reporting an increase in the number of COVID outbreaks in schools, but admit the numbers on the state’s dashboard don’t tell the whole story.

The New Jersey Department of Health lists a total of 69 cumulative school epidemics. This represents an increase of 30 new outbreaks since the last data was reported on September 27.

Officially, 379 students and staff have been linked to outbreaks in schools. However, this number is probably much higher.

The problem is how the data is collected and reported. For example, if a parent reports their child tested positive at home, that child is not included in the state’s total school case count. These numbers only reflect students and staff who contracted the virus at school or passed it on to another student or staff member inside a school building.

In state-issued guidelines, a “school epidemic” is defined as three or more cases that are specifically transmitted between students or staff, and verified through contact tracing.

Schools in Toms River have reported that nearly a thousand students and staff are in quarantine due to infections or exposure to COVID. Little of that total made it onto the state’s scorecard, as many infections were transmitted outside of school property. This is also why the superintendent of schools, Stephen Genco, was able to say that there had “been no epidemic” in the schools of Toms River.

Despite the lack of clear reports of the number of people infected in New Jersey schools as students return to full-time classroom learning, Gov. Phil Murphy says he is not concerned. “More than zero is too much,” Murphy said at a COVID briefing Wednesday, “But it’s a reasonable place at this point.”

Murphy issued a new directive to schools to begin expanding reporting of all known cases each week. State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said those reports would include information on any COVID testing performed by schools as well as any cases reported to schools by parents, students and staff.

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