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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy told CNBC on Friday he thinks K-12 schools in the state will reopen for in-person classes in the fall. 

“We want them to, and I do believe they will,” Murphy said on “Squawk Box,” while acknowledging that hopes for reopening schools could be derailed if coronavirus cases were to get really bad again in the state coming out of the summer.

“Imagine predicting in late April what late June would look like in America. Probably none of us would have gotten it right, good or bad,” the Democrat added. “So with that big caveat, two months out, I believe we will be back in school. It will be a new normal. There will be protocols in place that had not been in place before.”  

Murphy’s comments Friday came as schools at all levels across the U.S. are trying to develop plans for how to safely welcome students back for in-person instruction this fall. Many schools across the country shifted to remote learning in March as the Covid-19 outbreak intensified.

State officials released details of New Jersey’s reopening plan Friday afternoon. Staff and visitors must wear face coverings, while students are “strongly encouraged” to have them on, according to the Department of Education’s “The Road Back” plan. Schools also must have social distancing within the classroom “to the maximum extent practicable,” and districts also must develop a protocol to screen students and staff for symptoms of Covid-19, the document states. 

School districts must reopen for “modified” in-person classes, according to the plan. But given that the required changes may limit a school’s ability to operate at full capacity, a “hybrid” learning environment — some in-person instruction, some remote — may be necessary, the document acknowledges.

“The hardest nut to crack … is the asymptomatic, healthy, young person unwittingly passing the virus to someone who is in an older generation and/or someone with underlying health issues, and that’s the one that we’ve got to be most cautious about,” Murphy said on “Squawk Box,” prior to the details being released.  

Last week, New Jersey issued mandatory guidelines and recommendations for colleges and universities on how they can resume in-person classes. Schools have to submit plans to the state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education at least 14 days before they intend to restart. A school’s plan must detail protocols on social distancing, the use of face coverings and sanitation of campus buildings. 

The reopening of schools is critical for the U.S. economy as business restrictions are eased and more employees are called back to the office and job site. Remote school, and the lack of child care, has presented challenges for all workers during the pandemic. 

“There is a risk of going back to school,” Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who was Education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, told CNBC on Tuesday. “In my view, there is a greater risk of not going back to school and the damage it will do to the children, and to the parents and to the economy.”

New Jersey is currently in the second phase of its coronavirus reopening, with restaurants allowed to offer outdoor dining and most nonessential businesses able to operate with capacity limits. Malls will reopen next week. Casinos also can restart operations with 25% capacity on July 2. 

“We’ve got to take incremental steps. This is a virus that no one knows everything about,” Murphy said. “We’re learning as we go and the benefit of being incremental is you can learn more easily from a given step that you’ve taken.” 

New Jersey has more than 170,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to the state Department of Health. More than 13,000 people in the state have died. 

Daily cases in New Jersey have come down dramatically since April, when the state had multiple days over more than 4,000 new infections. Daily case counts have mostly been under 500 since June 13.

Murphy, along with the governors of New York and Connecticut, imposed a 14-day quarantine Wednesday on travelers arriving from states that have rising Covid-19 cases that exceed certain benchmarks. The order currently includes Texas and Florida, which both paused their reopening plans.

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