TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Face masks will now be required outdoors in New Jersey when social distancing is not possible in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday.
Murphy said during a news conference in Trenton that “admittedly" it would be hard to enforce, but pointed to the rate of transmission of the virus creeping higher. The rate, which represents how many people one infected person spreads the virus to, climbed from about 0.7 to 1.1 on Wednesday, the governor reported.
“If you’re in your bubble with your family or sitting by yourself or doing something on your own, that’s not our focus," he said. He added that the focus is where you can’t socially distance around strangers, such as in a slow-moving line.
“We feel pretty strongly this is the right step to take, one that I hoped we wouldn’t have to take.”
The order decrees that “when it is not practicable for individuals in outdoor public spaces to socially distance and keep a six-foot distance from others, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners, all individuals shall wear face coverings," except when doing so would affect the wearer's health or if the wearer is engaged in “high intensity aerobic or anaerobic activities.”
The definition of outdoor public spaces doesn't include day care facilities or youth summer camps.
Violators can be prosecuted under state disorderly persons statutes, with punishments ranging up to six months in prison and up to a $1,000 fine, according to the order.
Masks are already required indoors in New Jersey and are currently encouraged to be worn outside.
The new order comes as New Jersey's COVID-19 trends had been headed largely in the right direction, while many other states, particularly in the south and west, are seeing spikes.
The increasing rate of transmission was in part expected, the governor said, because the state is amid reopening its economy from months of being shutdown. But he also pointed to cases that have been traced to states where rates are climbing.
New Jersey has reported about 174,000 positive cases, with about 13,500 confirmed fatalities. There are an additional 1,947 deaths likely stemming from COVID-19, Murphy reported Wednesday.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness or death.
RETURN OF POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
High school seniors and their families finally are getting the chance to celebrate graduations in a more traditional fashion.
Schools had been restricted to drive-by ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic until this week, when Murphy's executive order raised the limit on outdoor gatherings to 500 people. The governor has warned people attending the ceremonies to wear coverings and practice social distancing.
Schools have been closed since mid-March and classes were moved online.
CUTTING THE LINES
Murphy said he would take steps to address what he called a “tsunami” of people who showed up this week when Motor Vehicle Commission offices reopened after being closed for nearly four months. Irate customers tweeted photos accompanied by stories of waiting for several hours only to be turned away.
Offices will be open on Mondays this month, reversing the MVC's plan to close them for cleaning, Murphy said. MVC workers will be exempt from furloughs.
Murphy denied the state was unprepared for the onslaught, but added, "This is probably, realistically going to be with us for some number of weeks.”