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N.J. Gov. to all the 'knuckleheads': Wear a mask outdoors or risk a ticket

Gov. Murphy's order comes as the U.S. eclipsed a grim milestone with more than 3 million COVID-19 cases.
Image: Jersey Shore 4th of July Weekend
The beach in Wildwood, N.J. on July 4, 2020.Gabby Jones / Redux Pictures

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has a warning for all the "knuckleheads" — you could be ticketed if you’re not wearing a mask in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“There’s no question that face coverings are game-changers,” Murphy said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I think we were the first state in America to require them indoors. They’ve been strongly recommended out-of-doors. We’re gonna turn that up a notch today and say, We’re gonna ask: If you can’t socially distance, it’s gonna be required.”

Murphy, whose habit of referring to people who break the rules as "knuckleheads"' is well documented, signed the order Wednesday.

“Local law enforcement will monitor compliance, particularly in crowded situations,” his spokeswoman, Alyana Alfaro-Post, said in an email.

Murphy’s announcement comes one day after the U.S. eclipsed the grim milestone of 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases, figures compiled by NBC News showed.

Also, for the first time, more than 60,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported in a single day in the U.S., according to the NBC News numbers.

Murphy isn’t the only lawmaker who is mandating masks. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who announced Tuesday that she has tested positive for COVID-19, signed an executive order Wednesday mandating masks in her city.

In other developments:

  • President Donald Trump threatened to "cut off" funding if public schools opt not to reopen this fall because of the pandemic. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo fired back, saying it's up to the states to decide when to reopen schools. "It's not up to the President of the United States," Cuomo said.
  • Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, issued a statement in which he said that "news that America surpassed three million COVID-19 cases is yet another sad reminder of the cost our country is paying for President Trump’s failure to lead us through this crisis." Just last week Trump predicted the pandemic would "just disappear" even as the number of new cases was exploding.
  • Sen. Mitt Romney became the latest Republican senator to announce that he would not be going to the next month's GOP convention in Florida, a state that has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases. Romney, a harsh critic of President Donald Trump, did not give a reason. Of the four others, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said concerns about the coronavirus are keeping him away.
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced it will host an HBO special on Nov. 7 to honor the 2020 inductees, whose May 2 ceremony was canceled because of the pandemic. The acts that will be celebrated include the late Whitney Houston and Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., and bands like Depeche Mode and The Doobie Brothers.

Since April, people in the Garden State have been required to wear face coverings insides stores and eateries and while using public transportation. Murphy’s edict now extends mask wearing to outdoor settings where there are lots of people and six-feet social distancing is difficult.

Once a coronavirus hot spot, New Jersey has been able to flatten the curve although the transmission rate has been climbing again, Murphy said.

New cases, however, are down 26 percent in the last two weeks compared to the previous two weeks, NBC News figures show. And as of Wednesday morning, there have been a total of 177,166 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state and 15,281 fatalities.

By comparison, 37 states and U.S. territories have seen their two-week totals increase by 25 percent of more, the NBC News tally shows.

Murphy conceded on “Morning Joe” that enforcing the new mask rule is going to be hard and gave a vague answer when NBC’s Willie Geist asked if someone was caught sauntering on the crowded Asbury Park boardwalk without a mask would be ticketed.

"If you’re there by yourself or with your family, the answer is no,” the governor said. “But if you’re congregating with a lot of other folks and there’s no social distancing, you’re gonna at least get a warning, if not something stronger.”

“Admittedly, this is harder to enforce, which is why it’s not a no-brainer,” he added. “But we have to take this step, particularly given the hot spots we’re seeing elsewhere in the country. We’ve gone through hell in New Jersey. We’ve lost over 13,000 people. We’ve brought our numbers way down. We can’t go through that hell again.”

Mask-wearing has become a deeply politicized issue with many Trump supporters following his example and refusing to wear them in public. But recently Republican leaders who had been reluctant to impose mask-wearing mandates have begun urging people to wear them, including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who said he will be wearing one Saturday when President Trump arrives for a rally.

Sununu, like the GOP governors of other states, is not requiring that attendees don masks. And it remains to be seen whether Trump will wear one.

States like Florida, Texas, Arizona and California have seen the biggest jump in cases of late. But while the governors of California and Texas of have imposed mask mandates, the governors of Arizona and Florida have not gone that far.