$250 Fines for Not Wearing Masks Under Consideration in Hoboken

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Hoboken recently hit some important milestones in regard to flattening the curve and preventing the further spread of COVID-19. But now, the Mile Square’s City Council is considering taking things to the next level, following suit from an executive order from Phil Murphy: issuing a fine for those refusing to wear a mask outdoors when social distancing is not possible.

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An Executive Order from Governor Murphy

With reopening underway and Coronavirus cases on the rise in the state, Governor Murphy took a step to quash the trend. On July 8th, the governor issued Executive Order 163. The order requires residents across the state to wear face masks outdoors. “As I’ve said before, we know this virus is a lot less lethal outdoors than indoors, but that does not mean it is not lethal,” Murphy said. “The hotspots we’re seeing across the nation and certain worrisome transmission trends in New Jersey require us to do more. In the absence of a national strategy on face coverings, we’re taking this step to ensure that we can continue on our road back as one New Jersey family.” However, he admitted that enforcement will be difficult – if possible at all.

An Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) COVID-19 model predicts an additional 620 deaths in New Jersey by December 1st. But the IHME analysis also finds that if all residents in the state follow universal masking, 168 lives could be saved.

Read More: Hoboken University Medical Center Reports Zero COVID-19 Patients for First Time Since March

What’s Going on in Hoboken

And now, the Hoboken Council is considering taking local matters a step further too. According to a Hoboken ordinance, which unanimously passed first reading, a $250 fine would be imposed on anyone who is not wearing a mask outdoors and unable to social distance at least six feet from others, mimicking the state regulation passed by Governor Murphy. City and state regulations call for patrons and employees to wear a mask outside unless seated at a food establishment, and when unable to social distance six feet from others, also in line with the Governor’s executive order on face masks. For example, no violation of the executive order or mask regulations would occur if someone was sitting in a park, socially distanced at least six feet from other people or groups.

So who would be enforcing this regulation? Well, the police department, office of emergency management, code enforcement officers, the zoning department, construction official, and any other members of the COVID-19 task force would have the ability to issue fines.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla told Hudson County View that while sanctions were certainly in play if the ordinance is approved, they would only be issued in the direst circumstances.

“The mechanism of an ordinance which creates a local fine is intended to be utilized only in those extreme measures where you have chronic disobedience or disorderly conduct associated with that type of a situation,” the mayor explained.

We reached out to City Hall to ask some specifics, including:

  • Does this apply to outdoor workouts?
  • Does this apply to outdoor dining?

From City Hall spokesperson Vijay Chaudhuri, “Both the Governor’s Executive Order and potential fine do not apply if working out outdoors in a socially distanced manner, such as workouts in a park where participants are at least six feet from others. Masks do not need to be worn when sitting down and dining at an outdoor establishment.”

See More: Latest Jersey City + Hoboken COVID-19 Updates as of August 9, 2020

Council Members Raise Questions on Enforcement

Just because the ordinance passed unanimously on its first reading doesn’t mean passage at the August 19th council meeting is definite. When asked for comment by Hoboken Girl, some council members expressed their hesitation.

“I am very pro-mask wearing but I’d like to know the difference between this ordinance and the Executive Order that Gov. Murphy signed issuing $1,000 fines in his mask mandate,” Councilman Ruben Ramos told us. “Local law enforcement was given the authority to enforce the executive order. I’m curious to learn how many fines the Hoboken Police Department has issued. I favor the approach of more education about the importance mask wearing {as opposed to} a law that may or may not be enforced equitably. This may go the way of the scooter enforcement which was basically non existent.”

Councilwoman Tiffanie Fischer echoed the same sentiments. “I am 100% ‘pro-masker’ and believe wearing a mask is the least we can do for our safety. But this ordinance feels more like a headline grab than an actual pro-safety step. Governor Murphy has said his executive order {that this ordinance mirrors} is nearly impossible to enforce. So I look forward to hearing our mayor’s and HPD’s actual plan to enforce and ultimately fine Hoboken residents $250 for non-compliance. I’d hope other measures that fall somewhere between sending city emails urging mask usage and this proposed step are also being considered.”

Council President Jen Giattino told Hoboken Girl in an email, I am a believer in we all need to do our part. I cannot support legislation that will cause unnecessary stress on the residents of Hoboken due to the vagueness of the Executive Order it is mirroring.”

The Call in Favor of a Fine

Councilman Phil Cohen, on the other hand, favors the ordinance. “I plan to support this ordinance to give the city all available tools to minimize the risk of transmission of COVID-19 while we work to restore some sense of normalcy in these unprecedented times,” the councilman said in his most recent newsletter. “I ask you all to be considerate neighbors, whether walking, jogging, scooting, or biking in town. We’re all in this together. Wear a mask, save a life.”

And, according to Vijay Chaudhuri, spokesman for the mayor, the mayor supports the ordinance, as well. “Mayor Bhalla is 100% supportive of the proposed fine to enforce mask requirements,” said in an email to Hoboken Girl. “Wearing face masks remains one of the main strategies health experts recommend to combat the spread of COVID-19. The City will do everything possible to combat the virus and save lives.”

Remaining council members did not respond to our request for comment by the time of publication.

So additional fines issued by officials beyond the HPD might be in our future. How it will be enforced, and why it’s needed on top of the governor’s mandate are questions we’ll be asking  — stay tuned and we’ll update as we know more.

 


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Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, Alena visited Hoboken {her parents’ hometown} regularly as a little girl and has always had a soft spot for the Mile Square. With family roots in the town’s fire department, she has been a proud resident of our fair city since attending graduate school at The New School in NYC. Alena began her career as a beat reporter at a small newspaper, before finding her groove as a development professional in the non-profit field. She has a passion for helping others, a penchant for writing, and is excited to get back to her journalism roots. When she’s not raising funds or following up on a scoop, Alena is practicing yoga, listening avidly to true crime podcasts, reading a great book, gallivanting with friends, and missing Schitt’s Creek.