HOBOKEN, NJ - Despite the overwhelming scientific support for the wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a petulant public response has prompted politicians to consider implementing fines for those who still adamantly refuse to use a face covering.
"What we need is to get the message across that we are all in this together," said Dr Anthony Fauci, noted physician and immunologist who serves as Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. "And it’s important because one of the purposes of the masks is that if you may be inadvertently walking around not knowing you’re infected—to protect others from getting infected.”
Yet many people still actively choose not to wear the masks or choose to wear them improperly—citing disbelief and/or the exercise of personal freedom.
Hoboken City Spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri said, "Mayor Bhalla regularly hears from residents, including seniors and those with compromised health conditions, that they are concerned for their safety when traveling outside with visitors often not wearing face masks. To help protect the health and safety of Hoboken residents, prevent a second wave of infections, and save lives, Mayor Bhalla is supportive of any measure that will encourage greater face mask compliance."
Such a measure is currently making its way through the Hoboken City Council, calling for fines up to $250 for violators.
"If the ordinance passes by the Council, fines will only be considered and given after a continued period of education and face mask distributions with fines only given in the most egregious circumstances and after repeated verbal warnings, and only when social distancing is not possible," Chaudhuri explained.
"The ordinance proposed mimics the state executive order put forward by Governor Murphy, which requires face masks outdoors when social distancing is not possible. For example, face masks are not required when socially distant six feet from others sitting in a park, or when doing an outdoor workout with a fitness club when remaining six feet from others."
While Hoboken officials seem to be in agreement regarding the need and effectiveness of wearing masks, some are skeptical of the enforceability of such an ordinance. As written, "Any administrative employee assigned may enforce the provisions of this Ordinance, including but not limited to: the Office of Emergency Management; the Police Department; members of the COVID-19 taskforce; Code Enforcement Officers; the Zoning Department; and the Construction Official."
According to Hoboken Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante, the enforcement would be, "Very minimal from the PD end."
"This is not a Hoboken Police Department initiative, as the Corporation Counsel, Mayor and I all feel that would be too heavy-handed. I also don’t want to get back to our communications room being inundated by people calling to state others don’t have masks on like we did months ago about people calling social distancing complaints in that were not enforceable."
He explains, "It’s a City of Hoboken Task Force. The Mayor wanted a couple individuals from each department in the City. There are two Class 2 Police Officers who will be part of the task force. It is mostly going to be a proactive education campaign."
Hoboken has been relatively successful in the fight against COVID-19. Since March, the city of around 55,000 has had 684 confirmed cases and 29 fatalities—noteworthy, considering its location directly across the Hudson River from New York City. Numbers had been declining steadily, however, officials are concerned that recent cavalier attitudes toward the pandemic will reignite a secondary surge in our area.
"This is after seeing less than 50% of our residents wearing masks and having our numbers going back up," said Ferrante, who nevertheless wants to avoid unnecessary confrontation on the streets of Hoboken. Fines would enter the picture only in scenarios where a persistent and visible effort was made by parties to circumvent the State rule and ignore a series of warnings.
"The last thing I want is our officers involved in a situation that can bring negative police-community relations as we are so far ahead of the curve in positive relations compared to other cities in the region," said Ferrante. "Summonses would be a last alternative."
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