Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday evening signed an executive order requiring facemasks or coverings to be worn both indoors, and now outdoors.
Masks will have to be worn outdoors when physical distancing – typically 6 feet – is not possible, such as in crowded public spaces like “a packed boardwalk or a line that is not properly spaced apart.”
The order also allows restaurants and bars to resume a highly limited and modified form of indoor dining, if they can open up two walls to effectively make the space more outdoors.
The mandate comes as the COVID-19 virus begins a resurgence in places across the country – like Florida and Texas – and as the transmission rate and spread creep up in New Jersey.
“Requiring masks outdoors is a step I had hoped we would not have to take,” the governor said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference in Trenton. “But, unfortunately, we’ve been seeing a backslide in compliance in New Jersey and across our nation.”
That’s in part fueled the uptick in both New Jersey and across the nation, Murphy said.
The order takes effect immediately. Failure to comply is a disorderly persons offense that could carry fines of up to $1,000 and prison sentences up to six months. That has been the case with a variety of other restrictions Murphy put in place since March in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.
“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 said, adding that wearing one is “about showing others that you care about their health.”
Under the order, anyone under the age of two is exempt from the requirement, as are people taking part in outdoor dining and those taking part in outdoor exercise or swimming.
The order also exempts people whose health and safety might be threatened by wearing a mask.
Someone walking in an empty park or neighborhood by themselves would be exempt from the requirement, but that would change should they find themselves in a crowded part of town.
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.
– Gov. Phil Murphy
“If you’re literally by yourself or with your own family in your bubble and you’re outside,” then you would be exempt, Murphy said.
“Again, I think a lot of this comes to common sense and personal responsibility,” he added.
Face coverings could also be briefly removed for “religious reasons,” the order states.
“Masks are an important barrier in the transmission of respiratory viruses,” State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli added on Wednesday. They do block aerial droplets that contain the virus, she said.
State Republicans panned the order, questioning the science behind an indoor and outdoor requirement, similar to rhetoric from national Republicans.
“Gov. Murphy’s unilateral & oppressive actions are destroying the economy and will now negatively impact everyday New Jerseyans outside in the summer sun,” tweeted Sen. Michael Doherty, R-23rd District.
Murphy, in a retweet, declared “Stop playing politics with people’s lives.”
STOP PLAYING POLITICS WITH PEOPLE’S LIVES https://t.co/76gOXJMfDM
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) July 8, 2020
The transmission rate of the virus has crept up since the state government began lifting restrictions en masse on June 15. That was largely expected, Murphy said, with people having the highest degree of in-person contact with each other in months.
But a bigger reason for the rise, he argued, was travel into New Jersey from one of 19 COVID-19 “hotspot” states, which represent over half the population of the United States, leading to the new mask requirements.
As of July 6, the transmission was 1.04, meaning that for every person who got the virus, they spread it to at least one other person. It was 0.70 on June 15 and was over 5 in March when the state shutdown went into effect.