The Maplewood Township Committee passed a resolution on Tuesday requiring that masks be worn in Maplewood Village at all times, with an eye toward expanding the mandate to parks in the future.
“The masking requirement was adopted by emergency resolution effective immediately,” Dafis told Village Green on Wednesday. “Signs will be going up in the Village to educate and notice [residents].”
The recommendation came from Public Health Officer Candice Davenport and Dafis, who described it as a “Phase one approach.” Maplewood Police will enforce the requirement during times that the pedestrian mall is in effect on Maplewood Avenue; at other times, the town’s social distancing ambassadors will enforce compliance.
Since the TC passed the mandate as a resolution, not as a more restrictive ordinance, there will be no summonses issued for non-compliance, Dafis said. However, “We could go there [if] necessary.”
In the meeting, Dafis said he had looked at mask mandates in other towns and cities as a model. TC member Vic De Luca referenced Hoboken’s July 8 mask mandate. He said that the city had considered adding a $250 fine for violating the mandate, though the fine ultimately was not included.
De Luca also wanted to TC to consider making the mandate townwide, instead of just applying it to the Village. “If we think it’s important wherever there’s a crowd, sometimes there’s crowds at other places.”
TC member Greg Lembrich said while he believes masks should be required “everywhere,” there were places in town where social distancing was possible. Requiring masks townwide, for people who are “just out walking,” would be an overreach.
Dafis said the current rule is that “masking is required and strongly recommended where social distancing is not possible.” the mandate goes one step further. He noted that the requirement could be extended to parks and other recreation areas.
TC member Nancy Adams said the mandate should only apply to the Village, where it is “virtually impossible to stay socially distant.” Though the mandate would technically apply 24 hours a day, “I think realistically, we won’t be enforcing it when it’s 7 in the morning and you’re on your morning walk…there’s common sense that can prevail.”
Mayor Frank McGehee said he was concerned about enforcement, and noted that the TC get emails every day with complaints of residents not wearing masks. Dafis said that in all of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders, enforcement lies exclusively with local police departments. He acknowledged the “balancing act” between over-policing and attempting to slow the increase in Covid positivity rates in the state — which are now up to 2.62%. “We want whatever enforcement that occurs to be equitable here in town…[but] I don’t think we can survive another lockdown.”
Dafis said that he hoped that having a more active police presence “may get us where we need to go without issuing a fine against anyone.”
McGehee agreed that “we have to collaborate with the police department” to implement a mandate. “Putting everything aside, [at the] end of the day, people will listen to police officers if they communicate something.”
De Luca disagreed. “I don’t want the police to be involved. We have enough trouble with relationships between the community and police.” He said relying on police discretion could result in different treatment for “a 60-year-old couple” versus a group of kids. “I think we’re gonna ask for trouble for police…I just think it opens up too many possible negative ramifications.”
Adams felt that police were necessary, and that as long as the pedestrian mall was active, there was already a heavier police presence in the Village. “We need to use the staff that we need to use…it’s a pandemic. Right now, it’s more important that people be masked in places where there’s a lot of people.” Adams felt that it was better to be “a little aggressive about it with everybody” sooner rather than later. “And I think most people will be grateful to know that we’re taking this seriously.”
“I don’t think we should be afraid,” Adams continued. “I think our police are nice enough, and collegial enough, to enforce this without it getting into the problems that we may be thinking about because of our hesitancy and our desire to have such a good community relationship. But I think we are building that, and I think we need to use our police to enforce this.”
Township Attorney Roger Desiderio mentioned that the TC would be preempted if Gov. Murphy’s order said that municipal police departments have to enforce the statewide mandate. “So we can’t have anybody else enforce it.”
McGehee said he thought parks should be included in the mandate. Desiderio said, “as a guy who goes and watches his grandkids in the park, I don’t think you can force the kids to wear masks while they play sports.” Adams agreed, noting that most people she saw in parks had a mask on their neck or chin, pulled a sweatshirt up, or avoided others. “I don’t see it as problematic, frankly, in the parks, as I do in the Village.”
McGehee said that if necessary, he would like to revisit the issue to include the parks. “Because 90% of the complaints I’m getting are in the parks, not the Village.”
During public comments, resident Joan Crystal supported the decision to have a mandate, but did not think the Village was enough.
“Why the Maplewood Avenue area, but not Springfield Avenue?,” Crystal asked. “I think if we’re going to focus on one part of town, we should also focus on the other major commercial area.”