Gov. Murphy tangles with Republican lawmaker on Twitter over new outdoor mask order

Gov. Murphy tangles with Republican lawmaker on Twitter over new outdoor mask order

Murphy Doherty

Gov. Phil Murphy (left) and state Sen. Michael Doherty (right)

The war over wearing masks to fight the coronavirus spilled into a sharp Twitter exchange in New Jersey between Gov. Phil Murphy and one of his harshest Republican critics.

Murphy announced Wednesday he’s signing an executive order requiring people in the Garden State wear masks in public when they can’t practice social distancing — a move he said is needed to help halt the virus’ spread.

But a few Republicans quickly criticized the move, questioning why it’s necessary when New Jersey’s daily cases have dropped more than four months into the state’s outbreak.

State Sen. Michael Doherty, R-Warren — who often criticizes the Democratic governor and is a staunch supporter of Republican President Donald Trumptweeted that Murphy is “exploiting a public health crisis for power.”

“Gov. Murphy’s unilateral & oppressive actions are destroying the economy & will now negatively impact everyday New Jerseyans outside in the summer sun,” Doherty added.

Murphy fired back with his own tweet: “STOP PLAYING POLITICS WITH PEOPLE’S LIVES.”

Doherty then responded with his own all-caps tweet, calling on Murphy to further remove the restrictions he has placed on businesses to battle the pandemic: “STOP PLAYING POLITICS WITH PEOPLE’S LIVELIHOODS. REOPEN NJ.”

People in New Jersey have been required since early April to wear masks when in a public indoor space, like a store or eatery. Masks outdoors has been only strongly recommended.

But Murphy said he’s expanding the order to include the outdoors because New Jersey has seen “a backslide” in people wearing masks as the weather has warmed and the state’s transmission rate of COVID-19 has jumped back past 1 in recent days. That means every newly infected person is passing it to at least one other person.

Murphy said people will not have to wear masks if they’re walking outside alone or with their family and aren’t in a big crowd or standing close to others. But he said it’s “absolutely vital” for people to mask up if they’re in a large gathering and can’t keep at least 6 feet away from others.

Under the order, you also don’t have to wear a mask if you’re eating or drinking outdoors at a restaurant or bar, a face covering endangers your health and safety, or you’re playing youth sports. Children under the age of 2 are also exempt.

“Wearing a face covering is not about politics,” Murphy said at his daily briefing in Trenton. “It’s about, quite simply, being sick or being healthy. It’s about life and death. It’s about showing others that you care about their health.”

Murphy did not specifically say what penalty violators would face or who would enforce the order. He said there will be more details when his executive order is officially released to the public, likely later Wednesday.

Doherty wasn’t the only Republican to slam Murphy’s move. State Sen. Joe Pennachio, R-Morris, said the new mask order feels “arbitrary and unsupported by data.”

“For people who want to take an active role and feel safer in a mask, they should, but I’m concerned the Governor’s actions are based more on political science than science,” said Pennacchio, another frequent Murphy critic and Trump supporter. “The best way to protect yourself and others is to practice social distancing. Avoid close contact with others when possible, and limit the duration of exposure when maintaining space isn’t practical.”

State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday “wearing a face covering has shown to dramatically decrease the release of droplets from people’s mouths” and is an “important barrier to the transmission of respiratory viruses.”

Murphy said he consulted with numerous health experts before issuing the order, including federal health officials like U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar and Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator.

So far, Trump’s administration has only recommended people wear masks. The president has not issued a federal mandate, though there has been mounting pressure for him to do so.

New Jersey, a densely populated state of 9 million residents, has reported 15,423 known deaths attributed to COVID-19 — 13,476 lab-confirmed and 1,947 probable — with 174,039 known cases in a little more than four months since the state’s first case was announced March 4.

Officials on Wednesday reported 53 new deaths related to the virus and 335 new cases.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected].

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