Indoor shoppers who refuse to wear masks during pandemic would face jail, fine under new bill

Posted Jul 31, 2020

Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order on April 8 requiring people to wear a mask covering their nose and mouths when they enter a store or other retail business.

Most comply, state officials say, but not everyone. A recent Gallup poll found 18% percent of the public rarely or never wears a mask, despite government orders and signs business owners post telling shoppers they must comply.

Now state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would set 30-day jail sentences and fines of up to $500 for those who refuse to wear masks by making violation of the order a disorderly persons offense.

“Although many residents have been following the governor’s mask mandate, those who aren’t put us all at risk,” Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex) said in a statement Friday. “There needs to be some sort of penalty to drive home the point that this mandate is not optional. One way or another, we’re all in this pandemic together, and must all do our part to prevent the spread of this virus.”

The mask requirement would remain in effect for the duration of the public health emergency and state of emergency declared in Executive Order No. 103, according to the bill, (A4453).

“We know what it takes to reduce the transmission of COVID-19: wearing face coverings in public and maintaining a safe distance from others when possible,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), also a sponsor. “As New Jersey continues to enter into our ‘new normal’ we must ensure that we are doing all that we can to keep our communities safe on the road back.”

Mask-wearing has become a source of anger among a vocal minority of the population who sees the order as a loss of liberty. It is also become political litmus test, a fact that the Gallup Poll results bear out. Women (54%), Democrats (61%), Northeasterners (54%) say they always use masks outside their homes. Republicans were among those whom a majority say they wear masks rarely (9%) or never (27%). Midwesterners were the most likely to reject mask-wearing, with 27% saying the rarely or never did so, the poll said.

On Wednesday, a 54-year-old woman was knocked to the floor and suffered a leg fracture inside a Hackensack Staples store after asking a customer to wear a mask, police said.

The victim told police she was using a copy machine when she asked another customer to wear her mask properly. “The suspect had pulled her own face mask below her mouth,” according to Hackensack Police

The victim then pointed her walking cane at the woman, “coming within inches of the suspect’s chest,” Captain Darrin DeWitt, a detective with the department, said. The suspect yelled at the victim again, violently throwing her to the ground before leaving the store, according to police and video of the altercation.

Murphy expanded the mask order July 8 when he ordered face coverings “in outdoor public spaces when it is not practicable to socially distance and keep a six-foot distance from others, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners.”

The order also requires employers to institute policies that requires mask-wearing in office buildings when employees are in “prolonged proximity to others.”

Masks successfully prevent the spread of the virus, according to a case study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Two hair stylists in Missouri who later tested positive saw 139 clients. Yet both customers and stylists wore masks and none of the clients tested positive for the virus 90 days later. Of the 67 clients who volunteered to be tested , none showed sign of infection.

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