WAYNE, NJ – Several state governments have mandated wearing cloth face coverings (masks) as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To one degree or another, people choosing or refusing to follow the mandate has become a point of contention to some in Wayne and across the state of New Jersey.
TAPinto asked several Wayne residents for their opinions on mask-wearing while they were waiting for last week’s summer concert to begin. We spoke with the Mayor and received feedback from a Democrat candidate in last year’s Town Council election, and then spoke with the respective Chairs of the Passaic County Young Democrat Club and Young Republican club.
The Wayne summer concerts happen outdoors on the lawn of the Wayne municipal complex. There is room for people to sit six feet away from each other, so most of those attending the Sensational Soul Cruisers show last week were not wearing masks.
In a very informal poll, everyone TAPinto spoke to at the concert agreed that mask-wearing was important during the pandemic.
“You have to wear them,” said Donna Mayer. “I don’t like it but, in order to stop the spread, we have to do our part.”
“They are very important to keep the virus under control; very important,” said Carol Labadie. “It’s more important when you're inside or when you go into stores, or when you’re close to people.”
Eileen Gula was wearing a mask as she waited for the show to start. We asked if she felt the people around her should be wearing masks as well. “No, because I think we're all spread apart enough, but if it was going to get a little more crowded, then I think everybody should have them on. Indoors definitely. Outdoors, I’m a little more lenient.”
This was the common theme. Everyone agreed that indoors, a mask was a necessity to protect yourself and others. However, there were some different ideas about wearing masks outdoors.
“I will respect anybody's wishes and walk in their stores or public places with my mask on but otherwise I don’t wear it,” said Donna Vitiello. “I don’t wear a mask outdoors at all. I don’t believe that the germs are going to jump up and bite me.”
Vitiello was asked if she was afraid of the virus. “No, no I’m not. God is my mask,” she said with a big smile.
Lisa Nelson had a different opinion, as she sat at the concert with her mask on. “When it comes down to it, we are in a pandemic,” she said. “I don't care whether or not you think it's uncomfortable. It's saving people's lives. So, I think people should be fined if they're not wearing them in all public places. Distancing is a factor, but I would have people put them on. Look, if you don't care about your own life that’s one thing; it's other people's lives that you could be affecting. There's no excuse. We are own worst enemies.”
Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano was also at the outdoor concert, he had his mask in hand, at the ready. He has come under fire recently when Wayne Board of Education member Dawn Kumar listed grievances about the Mayor which included her observation of the Mayor not wearing a mask, or maintaining social distancing at the opening of the new inclusive playground. There has been some back and forth between them publicly, but ultimately, she said: “I would appreciate hearing the Mayor's stance on mask wearing and social distancing and whether or not he will set a better example going forward.”
TAPinto asked Vergano his stance on mask-wearing. “I wear a mask when it's necessary: indoors and outdoors when you can't stay six feet apart. The guidelines are there for a reason,” he said. “Masks work. If you follow the guidelines, you should stay safe."
“There’s no better way to show you care about others and accept your responsibility as an adult member of our society right now, than to wear a face mask,” said Diane Douthat, who ran on the Democrat ticket for the Second Ward Wayne Town Council seat last year. “Part of being an adult is accepting that your actions can affect others, and making responsible choices based on that knowledge. So why are some people resisting the NJ mask mandate?”
That is THE question. Sam Liebman, a Wayne resident and the Chairwoman of the Passaic County Young Democrat Club answered that question.
“Given what the President has talked about regarding masks, and his almost near complete refusal to wear one in public, it's sort of formulated this whole partisan issue about it,” said Liebman. “There definitely is some opposition in New Jersey, and I do think it does fall under some party lines. I think it might be because of this concept of individual liberties that we have instilled in us as Americans, especially within the Republican Party.”
The Chairman of the Passaic County Young Republican Club, Donnie DeDio, also a Wayne resident, explained this notion further.
“First off, I believe that masks save lives,” said DeDio. “It's a necessity. It's being a good citizen to wear a mask and I agree with the science behind it. We all need to play our part and be good citizens and be good stewards of our community. But ultimately, I don't think we should be mandated to do it. I don't think the government should tell us that we have to do it and I certainly don't think that we should be punished if we don't comply, or we forget to comply.”
Dedio believes the government should be educating, not mandating.
“They should be advertising,” he said. “They should be telling everybody that this is the safest way; this is the right way. Just like the government says smoking is no good, and they lead campaigns to stop cigarette smoking, I think the same thing should be done with mask wearing.”
Dedio went on: “Mandating people to do something, to me, brings us down a slippery slope of a whole security versus liberty debate. I value my liberty and I value my freedoms and I just don't believe that the government should tell private citizens how to live their lives and what to do.”
Liebman supports Governor Murphy’s mandate on mask-wearing, because she feels that not everyone will comply without the mandate. “I think a lot of that comes from this value of individual liberty, where we like to think that we're responsible,” she said. “And a lot of us are responsible and can make adult decisions, but a lot of us just don't want to be told what to do, or just don't want to wear masks, and so they won't.”
“Masks are really not about you,” she added. “I think that's where this whole public health versus public good idea comes in. If masks were only about protecting yourself, if that were the case, I would agree. If you don’t want to wear a mask and protect yourself, then that’s fine, it’s up to you. But in reality, people not wearing masks affect other people. So, in my head it comes down to a moral issue. Are you doing this to protect others or are you doing this just because you don’t feel like wearing them? Which is why I support the mandate.”
Dedio was asked if he would support a temporary mandate on mask-wearing.
“My ears go up when I hear the word temporary,” he said. “Because I know that the word temporary is not what it really is intended to mean. You can look at the Governor for this example. Throughout this entire crisis, he has extended his temporary power; he is extending his executive order; he has stopped his slow openings of this state. When all numbers point to our curve being completely flat; hospitalizations completely down; deaths completely down; the positivity rate is way down. The numbers have been totally down and trending in the right direction for some time now, but we don't see these restrictions being lifted.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. A second wave of COVID has been predicted by many experts to hit New Jersey. Passaic County Director of Health, Dr. Charlene Gungil feels that this second wave will hit sometime this fall. There is a question about whether Wayne schools will open at all this fall or if any fall sports will kick off. It is an unprecedented time and unprecedented measures are being taken to try to keep us all safe.
It is a consensus in Wayne that mask-wearing is a necessity, but should it be law? That’s where the differences seem to appear.