NEWARK — Since early April in New Jersey, face masks or face coverings have been required at indoor public spaces such as eateries, bodegas, public transportation, and government buildings. The use of masks outdoors was only strongly recommended, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state the hardest.
That changed on Wednesday when Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order making it a requirement to use face masks in outdoor public spaces, with some limitations.
“There’s no question that face coverings are game changers,” Murphy said on Wednesday. “I think we’re the first state in America to require them indoors. They’ve been strongly recommended out of doors. We’re going to turn that up a notch today and ask if you can’t socially distance, that this will be required. We believe that the combination of social distancing, face covering, basic washing your hands with soap and water, stay away from everyone if you don’t feel well, and get tested. That’s the combination of steps that we need to continue to take.”
Even though the state’s outbreak has slowed significantly these past weeks, the U.S. has surpassed 3 million cases, with about 1 million coming in the last 28 days, as numerous states have seen a surge in new positive tests.
People who spoke with Latino Rebels on Thursday had mixed reactions to Murphy’s measure.
“It’s better,” said Maria Soussa, owner of Central Avenue Café in East Newark. “The only way the disease is going away is by protecting each other.” Since the beginning of the quarantine, Soussa has encouraged everyone to wear a mask.
“I sell masks in my store, but I give them away for free if I see someone not wearing one,” Soussa said.
Juan and Ana González, a couple sitting outside Soussa’s café also agreed, but they think people might not follow the new law.
“With the weather getting warmer and warmer, I don’t think people are going to wear masks,” Ana said, while drinking a smoothie. “It’s going to be the same.”
On a hot day, West Hudson Park in Kearny is packed with residents running, walking, and families playing in the grass. Most of them are not wearing face coverings, and some are not enforcing the six-feet social distance.
“It is very hot today,” said Stephanie Toledo as she played with her two-year old and four-year old on the grass. “It is unconformable wearing a mask in this weather. But I wear them when I go to a store.”
José María from Morristown had the same reaction.
“Honestly, I am tired. I know we have to take care of ourselves, and others. But I walk for 40 minutes to my job every day in a 90-degree weather with a mask. It’s hard to keep my mask on,” he said.
Once a COVID-19 hotspot, New Jersey has been smoothly re-opening business that have been closed since the quarantine began as they say new cases and hospitalizations go down. The transmission rate, however, jumped past the mark of 1 after falling below it for the past 10 weeks.
State Officials said hat the increase of cases comes from different factors, such as the re-opening of indoor activities as well as travelers bringing the virus from other states.
“This is, again, why we are taking the steps today to require everyone to wear masks and face coverings when outside,” Murphy said at his July 8 coronavirus briefing. “We have to have both a lower daily positivity and a rate below one. This is not either/or, this is and/both. It’s the only way we can meaningfully slow the rate of spread of COVID-19 to save lives and not see our progress backslide.”
Whoever violates the new order will receive a summons for disorderly persons offense, similar to Murphy’s previous orders, and will carry a jail term for up to six months and/or fines of $1,000.
Diego Jesús Bartesaghi Mena is a 2020 Latino Rebels summer correspondent. A recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School, he is based in Newark, NJ and tweets from @bartesaghi_mena.