Virus Outbreak New Jersey

A customer browses aisles Friday, March 20, 2020, while wearing a protective face mask at a Stop & Shop supermarket in Teaneck, N.J.

(The Center Square) – A bill proposed by New Jersey Assembly Democrats Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, would create a penalty for people who refuse to wear a face covering in a store that requires it.

Anyone caught without a covering would be charged with a petty disorderly persons offense, according to the bill. The charge would be punishable by a fine of up to $500 and a jail term of up to 30 days, according to the bill. The law would remain in effect until after the health emergency is over.

The bill is needed because too many aspects of COVID-19 are politicized, Caputo said.

“We need to look at the facts based on what we know right now, which is that wearing a mask around other people – especially indoors – significantly reduces the spread of this deadly virus,” Caputo said in a statement. “That means this is truly a matter of life and death which we cannot take lightly.”

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts have said wearing a mask reduces the transmission of COVID-19. Most major retailers, including Walmart and Target, are requiring customers to wear masks while inside their stores. But the requests have been difficult to enforce.

An executive order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy requires residents to wear masks while outdoors when social distancing is not possible. The order also states that businesses not open to the public should require employees to wear face coverings when people are in close proximity for a long period of time.

“There needs to be some sort of penalty to drive home the point that this mandate is not optional,” Caputo said. “One way or another, we’re all in this pandemic together, and must all do our part to prevent the spread of this virus.”

Face coverings have been controversial. President Donald Trump has said he will not issue a national mandate requiring masks, citing personal freedoms. Other governors have issued mask mandates.

A University of Chicago study cited by Caputo and Vainieri Huttle said 75 percent of Americans support wearing a mask.

“Wearing a mask in stores is critical to keeping our business owners, their staff and customers safe,” said Vainieri Huttle. “Wearing a mask is a show of respect for the health of others around you as well as the sacrifices that have been made during this difficult time.”