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Op: Ed Wear a mask or face a fine – or jail

by Assemblyman Ralph Caputo and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle

As Gov. Phil Murphy carefully reopens New Jersey’s economy, these measures are often accompanied by mask mandates – requiring masks to be worn in hair and nail salons, grocery stores and other indoor facilities.

In the midst of a global pandemic that has killed nearly 14,000 New Jerseyans and more than 155,000 people nationwide, there should be no debate whether or not we should all wear masks.

Governor Murphy has made his views clear: masks save lives.

This debate is not new. During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, a cultural war broke out regarding the use of masks.

Is history repeating itself? As the United States continues to battle outbreaks of COVID-19, debates persist regarding whether or not masks should be required.

Mask ordinances in cities like San Francisco stoked political division, even prompting the formation of the “Anti-Mask League.”

The 1918 Flu Pandemic holds many lessons for us as we continue to battle our 21st-century contagion. Amongst these lessons is the importance of masks.

Wearing a mask is a sign of mutual respect. You wear a mask to protect others and others wear a mask to protect you.

In fact, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation has released new research that estimates 33,000 American deaths could be avoided by Oct. 1 if 95% of people wore masks in public.

Or, let’s think about masks as our path forward to economic recovery. According to research conducted by Goldman Sachs, if the United States were to enact a nationwide mandate on masks, it could save the American economy a $1 trillion economic loss.

The research states that widespread mask usage could spare communities from needing to declare stay at home orders, reducing the need for strict lockdowns that stagnate the economy.

There is no question that widespread adherence to mask requirements in New Jersey would accelerate our economic re-opening.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s business community, especially small businesses, will continue to endure economic injury until it is deemed safe to restart or expand operations.

Motivated by the public health and economic benefits of mask usage, we have introduced legislation (A4453) that would institute a petty disorderly persons offense in the event that an individual enters a store without a mask when it has been designated by the establishment that masks are mandatory for entry.

Let’s be clear, this should not have to be legislated. Public health experts around the nation and around the world have all confirmed that mask usage can help to slow the spread of the virus.

And New Jersey is in good company for requiring masks in public places as 32 other states have also issued similar mandates.

Mask usage, in concurrence with a comprehensive testing system and robust contact tracing, is the best solution to truly flatten the curve and save lives.

Under the leadership of Governor Murphy, the State of New Jersey has made incredible strides to flatten the curve. But he cannot do it alone. To truly defeat this virus, we all need to do our part.

This is not a partisan issue, whether or not opponents have tried to frame it that way. The simple truth is, the coronavirus doesn’t ask for your party registration before it infects you, it doesn’t care who you vote for before it confines you to a ventilator and kills you.

One century ago, misguided and groundless debates on the usage of masks led to a culture war while thousands of Americans died. How many lives could have been spared?

History doesn’t have to repeat itself. We can all do our part to protect one another and it takes minimal effort. Just wear a mask.

Let’s leave the legacy of fear mongering and senseless culture wars behind us. Let’s learn from the mistakes of a century ago and do our part to do better this time around.

Let’s be on the right side of history.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo represents the 28th Legislative District, which includes parts of Essex County.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle represents the 37th Legislative District, which includes parts of Bergen County.