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Murphy to sign order requiring outdoor face coverings (updated)

Masks and face coverings are now being required both indoors and outdoors, under an order Gov. Phil Murphy announced on Wednesday, as the COVID-19 virus surges across the country and the transmission rate creeps up in New Jersey.

Up until now, coverings are required indoors, as well as at many outdoor businesses, and they are strongly encouraged when in public—such as in a crowded public space or at the beach. But under the order, masks will have to be worn outdoors when social distancing is not possible. They are, Murphy said at a Wednesday afternoon press briefing in Trenton, “absolutely vital,” in crowded settings such as boardwalks or lines.

Exceptions will be for people taking part in outdoor dining, those under the age of two, and in cases where wearing a mask would risk someone’s health or safety.

The order would likely exempt outdoor strenuous activity such as exercise, Murphy said, but enforcing the requirement during heat waves and other weather advisories could be trickier to balance with any one person’s health.

Gov. Phil Murphy during his daily COVID-10 press briefing at the the War Memorial in Trenton on May 19, 2020.

Gov. Phil Murphy during his daily COVID-10 press briefing at the the War Memorial in Trenton on May 19, 2020. – CHRIS PEDOTA, GANNETT

“Requiring masks outdoors is a step I had hoped we would not have to take,” the governor said. “But, unfortunately, we’ve been seeing a backslide in compliance in New Jersey and across our nation.”

That’s in part fueled the resurgence in both New Jersey and across the nation, Murphy said.

“Not wearing a mask isn’t a symbol of politics. It’s a sign of selfishness. It’s a sign that you think you’re invincible and to hell with everyone else,” the governor added. And wearing one is “about showing others that you care about their health.”

“Masks are an important barrier in the transmission of respiratory viruses,” State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli added on Wednesday. They do, after all, block aerial droplets which contain the virus, she said.

The order has not yet been formally signed. It would cover penalties levied against anyone not following the mask order. But the focus of the new order “is gatherings with lack of social distancing,” the governor said, rather than one person going for a walk in an empty park.

As of July 6, the positivity rate among COVID-19 tests was 3.23 percent, while the transmission rate was 1.10, meaning that for every person who got the virus, they spread it to at least one other person.

It had been below 1 for 10 weeks and was at 0.70 when outdoor dining and non-essential retail resumed on June 15, followed by dozens of restrictions lifted on casinos, hair salons and barbershops, malls and outdoor recreation.

When the stay-at-home order and statewide shutdown were both enacted in late March, the transmission rate was over 5.

Positivity and the transmission rate are two of the key metrics to gauge whether the virus is spreading, and Murphy said the administration expected some of these would creep up as restrictions are rolled back and more people have the highest level of in-person contact in months.

The governor cited travel into New Jersey from states where COVID-19 has seen upticks as another big reason that the spread is slowly worsening.

There are currently 19 states with hotspots of the virus, representing more than half the nation’s population, from which travelers coming into New Jersey should self-quarantine.

“The system” of contact tracing “has worked spotting some of these flare-ups” relating to out-of-state travel, such as a spike in North Jersey stemming from a recent wedding in South Carolina.

Murphy also cited “knucklehead behavior,” such as blatant violations of face covering and physical distancing requirements, hence the outdoor and indoor mask mandate.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on July 8, 2020, at 2:27 p.m. EST to include details made public during Gov. Phil Murphy’s COVID-19 briefing in Trenton on Wednesday. 

Daniel J. Munoz
Daniel Munoz covers politics and state government for NJBIZ. You can contact him at dmunoz@njbiz.com.

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