TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Nearly 900 students in Toms River are in COVID quarantine after a district-wide outbreak of the virus.

That means one in 14 students in Toms River have either had COVID or been impacted by the virus since the start of the school year.

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Some blame the district’s lax mask policy for the recent spike.

As CBS2’s Jessica Moore reports, sophomore Navaeh Darby contracted COVID at Toms River High School South just days into the new school year.

“On the first day of school, a lot of people didn’t wear their masks,” Darby said. “You’re accumulating all their germs, so now I had COVID, and it was horrible.”

COVID VACCINE

Darby is one of 218 students and 33 staff members who’ve gotten the virus so far this year.

“These data tracked the number of outbreaks and cases which have been traced back to in-school and in-classroom activities,” said New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Judith Persichilli.

Roughly 15,500 students are enrolled in the Toms River district. Nearly 900 students and staff are currently quarantined.

Mia Applegate’s quarantine just ended.

“Some kid in my class had COVID and they had to send me home because I wasn’t wearing a mask and I’m not vaccinated,” Applegate said.

Toms River didn’t implement a mask policy until two weeks into the school year, and even then some schools used the “excessive heat exception” to avoid enforcing the policy. Even now, students say the rule is hit or miss.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

“Cold classrooms you have to wear it, but other teachers, you’ll have it down and they won’t even say anything,” said student Femi Adekunle.

“I mean sometimes I walk into school without a mask because I don’t have one and they don’t say anything,” said student Lexa Nuara.

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The Ocean County Health Department tells CBS2 “we are aware of the numbers in Toms River and continue to closely monitor the situation.”

“These cases are still being reviewed and the local health department is working with the school district to determine mitigation efforts,” Persichilli said.

The superintendent refused CBS2’s requests for comment on this story.

A district spokesperson told Moore the numbers aren’t much higher than the bumps being seen across the state.

Watch Jessica Moore’s report — 

As CBS2’s Jessica Layton reports, there are 39 outbreaks in schools statewide.

Another outbreak is in Passaic County. The 50 kids who are sick there account for 27% of all student illnesses in New Jersey.

“Vaccination is the most critical tool we have to fight this virus,” Persichilli said.

Yet teachers in New Jersey still have the option to test weekly or get vaccinated. But why give the option?

We want them to get vaccinated but the testing additional wrinkle, as we think along with masks is a package that makes our schools safe,” Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday.

With outbreaks becoming more concerning, Layton asked the governor’s office if there’s any scenario that could make him consider a vaccine requirement for teachers.

In a statement, his office said, “While we will continue to encourage and prioritize vaccination for all who are eligible, we must also ensure that schools have sufficient staff to remain open for full time in person instruction.”

Teachers have until Oct. 18 to make up their minds as they continue to mold the minds of our youngest and most vulnerable.

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CBS2’s Jessica Layton contributed to this report.

Jessica Moore