On Aug. 19 the city council could vote on a new ordinance that would establish a $250 fine for those who do not wear face masks in accordance with Governor Phil Murphy’s executive order.
The council introduced the ordinance on first reading during the July 29 meeting. It was the final vote of the night.
Though the spread of COVID-19 has slowed in New Jersey since the governor declared a public health emergency in March, new cases are being reported daily.
According to the ordinance, “It is imperative that the City of Hoboken ensure that residents continue to take all practical steps to prevent a resurgence, including wearing face coverings whenever possible and practicing social distancing.”
The ordinance states that the city seeks to codify regulations set forth on July 8, by Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 163, which details regulations regarding the use of face coverings indoors and outdoors, as well as social distancing.
When it is not practical for individuals in outdoor public spaces to keep a six-foot distance from others, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners, all individuals must wear face coverings.
This requirement will not apply when wearing a face covering would inhibit a person’s health, including when engaging in high intensity aerobic or anaerobic activities, when in the water, and in other situations where the presence of a mask would pose a risk to the individual’s safety, or where the individual is under two years of age.
The face mask requirement does not apply in situations where a person cannot feasibly wear a face covering, such as when individuals are eating or drinking at outdoor dining areas, or when individuals need to briefly remove their face coverings for religious reasons.
All individuals should wear face coverings in indoor spaces that are accessible to the public, including retail, recreational, and entertainment businesses, government buildings open to the public, and mass transit buses, trains, and stations, except if doing so would inhibit the individual’s health.
Indoor commercial spaces that are not open to the public, such as office buildings, must have policies that at a minimum require individuals to wear face coverings when in prolonged proximity to others.
Fines as a last resort
According to the ordinance, any administrative employee assigned may enforce the ordinance, including the Office of Emergency Management, the Police Department, members of the COVID-19 Taskforce, Code Enforcement Officers, the Zoning Department, and the Construction Official.
Any individual who pleads guilty to or is found guilty of a violation of this section would be subject to a $250 fine.
According to Mayor Ravi Bhalla, the fines would only be for those who routinely go without a face covering and who have received several warnings.
“It’s something that will hopefully be in the city’s toolkit to contain the virus,” Bhalla said. “Right now we have formed an ad hoc COVID special unit consisting of various departments within the city of Hoboken to enforce the governor’s mandate in a way that is not heavy handed but that really emphasizes public education.”
The city has tasked it’s regulatory officers, or code enforcement officers to give out masks or warnings to those not complying with the mandate instead of tickets.
“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,” Bhalla said. “The good news is that this ad-hoc COVID task force or special unit has received a lot of cooperation from residents who’ve been asked to mask up, so to speak, or socially distance, so this is just another progressive measure to achieve greater compliance with the governor’s mandates and contain the virus.”