Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce an end to one of his most controversial pandemic policies as early as today.

According to the New York Times, Murphy will end the school mask mandate on or around March 7.

COVID metrics have reached near pandemic lows in the last two weeks after spiking to pandemic highs after the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Murphy told the Times that the lifting of the mask mandate is a "huge step toward normalcy.” Students and staff are currently required to mask-up in all school buildings.

Many see the move as a step toward accepting COVID as a normal part of daily life in New Jersey and beyond. Two weeks ago, Murphy said we were going to have to learn to live with coronavirus. Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Murphy acknowledged, "We're not going to manage this to zero."

The mask issue has sparked heated debate in school districts around the state and led to angry confrontations at school board meetings. Parents have staged dozens of small protests over the last two years.

It was Murphy's insistence to keep kids masked-up in school that led to the legislature's refusal to extend his pandemic powers earlier this month.

The mask mandate for schools was due to expire on Jan. 12.

Murphy instead declared a new public health emergency in part to keep that mandate in place. At the time, he said wearing a mask was critical in order to maintain in-person instruction.

The number of COVID outbreaks in school has continued to rise since the beginning of the year. On Sunday, the New Jersey Department of Health reported an additional 33 outbreaks statewide bringing the total for the year to 465.

However, Murphy also suggested the mandate could be lifted before the end of the current school year if the COVID metrics continued to fall.

"I think there's a real shot of that," Murphy said in an interview with PIX11 on Jan. 20, but gave no timetable.

Murphy's current public health emergency is also due to expire at the end of this week, but the governor has given no indication if he will extend it.

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