Police investigating ‘knucklehead’ maskless shopping protest planned at N.J. mall, Murphy says

Posted Mar 24, 2021

New Jersey officials on Wednesday said they’re monitoring social media posts promoting a protest calling for people to go shopping at Freehold Raceway Mall on Saturday without face masks more than a year into restrictions to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

“Not only we are aware of this ridiculous flyer that’s gone around about maskless shopping, but I am personally aware of it and extremely unhappy about it,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during his latest COVID-19 briefing in Trenton.

The origin of the “maskless shopping” protest is unclear, but officials said they were aware of the event being organized by the Patriot Party of New Jersey before a reporter asked about it during Wednesday’s briefing. At least one version of the flyer that appears on Twitter lists a specific time and meeting place, though the authenticity could not be verified.

State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan said authorities have not yet sent guidance to local law enforcement or store owners on how to handle the matter, but he said he’s disappointed that businesses would have to worry.

“At a time when businesses have been struggling, to put them in a position they may have to close their doors seemed hard to fathom for us,” Callahan said.

Murphy echoed his concern for mall security and staff.

“They’re not law enforcement,” the Democratic governor said of stores. “And to put them in a position — the overwhelming amount of whom have been doing the right thing for day in and day out now, for 13 months — to make them be the guy or gal at the door that has to say to some knucklehead who’s trying to make a political statement, ‘Actually, you can’t come in,’ therefore you lose the business, and/or you get into a confrontation, that’s the last thing we need right now.”

The state Department of Homeland Security is investigating as well, Murphy said. A message left Wednesday afternoon for management at the mall was not immediately returned.

Stores in New Jersey have been limited to half capacity since June to help fight the pandemic. Customers and staff are required to wear masks while indoors under Murphy’s executive orders.

Republicans have routinely criticized the governor for his measures, arguing they go too far while businesses are struggling for survival.

The protest plans comes as New Jersey sees recent upticks in COVID-19 cases. The state on Wednesday reported another 3,227 confirmed cases of and 28 additional confirmed deaths, while the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state was above 2,000 for the second straight day.

The state’s seven-day average for new confirmed cases is now 3,339, up 6% from a week ago and 35% from a month ago.

Meanwhile, New Jersey health facilities and vaccine centers have now administered about 3.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine — including about 1.29 million people considered fully-vaccinated, according to state data.

The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of its eligible adults — about 4.7 million people — by the end of May. More than 18% of the adult population is fully vaccinated and more than half of adults have been administered at least one shot.

Murphy said Wednesday the state’s vaccine supply is set to increase about 19% next week, to nearly half a million doses.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-03-25 02:37:43 -0700