Governor Phil Murphy said he has no plans to shut down public schools in New Jersey, even as COVID-19 cases in the state hit an all-time high.

“We will do everything we can to keep our kids in schools,” Murphy said during a press briefing on Monday, adding that it’s up to each individual school district to decide whether to switch to online classes. “We have no desire to return to remote learning which is suboptimal, as we all know, in terms of learning, instruction and learning loss.”

New Jersey reported 20,400 new COVID cases on Monday, the sixth straight day cases topped 20,000. Hospitalizations, meanwhile, increased by 50% from last week to 4,715 — more than seven times the rate from two months ago and quadruple the numbers from last month, state data show.

“This omicron tsunami has changed the game yet again,” Murphy said.

While Murphy declined to issue any new restrictions or mandates, he did petition the state Legislature to extend his COVID-related emergency powers for 90 days past the January 11th deadline. That would allow him to continue imposing statewide rules on vaccinations, testing and enforcing CDC guidelines, such as masking. For now, universal masking is only mandated inside schools and Murphy says he plans to keep that requirement in place.

As of Monday, 806 schools were closed due to COVID-related concerns, new data shows. That’s about 30% of the schools the state oversees, including all public, charter and private schools that service special needs students. More than 100 school districts opted to shut their doors and offer remote learning in some or all of their schools. Cranford schools will be closed the longest, through January 20th.

Larger districts such as Newark, Paterson and Elizabeth are remote until January 18th. Students in Jersey City will learn remotely for one week until January 7th. Schools in suburban districts have also made changes by moving online or shortening the school day.

So far, more than a dozen districts in the state have moved classes online. Newark, Paterson, Elizabeth and New Brunswick are remote through January 14th. Students in Jersey City will learn remotely for one week until January 7th. Schools in suburban districts have also made changes by moving online or shortening the school day.

In a statement, the state's largest teachers' union said it supports districts that have temporarily opted for remote instruction and encourages local officials to make data-based assessments.

“We believe every district should look carefully and honestly at the data and make the decision that best protects the health and well-being of students and staff,” New Jersey Education Association spokesperson Steve Baker said in a statement.

The state did not require students to be universally tested before returning to in-person classes this week. New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said officials reached out to testing sites, pharmacies and clinics over the weekend, asking them to prioritize tests for students and their families. Health officials also asked test sites to expand their hours to accomodate more requests from students.

The state has rolled out a “test to stay” policy that allows unvaccinated, asymptomatic students to remain in class if they agree to more rigorous testing and abide by strict mask usage. Officials, however, did not announce any plans to provide districts with additional resources to ramp up testing or contact tracing in the coming weeks.

This story has been updated with additional information on school closures. Katherine Fung contributed reporting.