WESTFIELD, NJ – Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber sent a letter on Monday to State Police Col. Pat Callahan requesting "fair and consistent enforcement of the state’s executive orders enforcing social distancing" after Gov. Phil Murphy appeared at two George Floyd protests over the weekend — in contrast to his order limiting outdoor gatherings to 25 people amid the spread of coronavirus.
After attending the protests for racial equality in Westfield and Hillside, Murphy took heat because he had strictly limited outdoor gatherings in New Jersey to 25 people, yet had not stopped these larger protests or told people at them to stand 6 feet apart.
Several protests in New Jersey drew thousands of individuals to towns including Princeton, Newark, and Hoboken last week, but after each event, the mayors told protest attendees that they should get coronavirus tests or self-isolate.
After nearly 3,000 people attended a peaceful protest Sunday afternoon in Westfield organized by a high school student, Mayor Shelley Brindle noted in a statement on Sunday night, "As inspiring as today was, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how concerned I remain for the potential of an increase in COVID infections."
She added, "While masks were prevalent today, if you attended please consider making an appointment to get tested, and be sure to self-isolate if you begin experiencing symptoms. We can not afford to slip backwards."
Although face coverings are recommended by the CDC to reduce the spread of the virus, they do not eliminate transmission entirely.
Organizers of the event had said in advance that people should follow social distancing precautions and bring water, hand sanitizer, and snacks.
But that doesn't explain why Murphy would look the other way on the large outdoor gatherings when he clamped down on smaller graduations, religious gatherings, and other events.
Webber — whose 26th legislative district includes parts of Essex, Morris and Passaic counties — wrote on Monday, "I write to inform you of two separate violations of Executive Order 148 that occurred yesterday in Westfield and Hillside. Photographic and written evidence on social media indicates that one Philip Dunton Murphy of Middletown openly and brazenly defied Executive Order 148 by purposely, repeatedly, and wantonly associating with others in groups of greater than 25 individuals, and aiding and abetting such behavior. "
Webber suggested that Murphy could be found later at his daily press conference. "The whereabouts of Mr. Murphy are unknown to my office at this time, but I have reason to believe that he will be seated about 15 feet to your right at 2:30 p.m. today at the War Memorial in Trenton," he wrote. "I trust you will uphold your public duty to the fair and consistent enforcement of our laws."
At the press conference Monday afternoon, Murphy appeared to address the criticism from Webber and others.
"I was also pleased to see so many people — in fact, I said to my colleagues today that I did not see even one person not wearing a mask or a face covering," he said, "keeping themselves safe even as they protested to ensure that every American can be safe." He praised the organizers of the events.
Murphy then asked everyone who protested to get tested. "We cannot let what happened across New Jersey this weekend be undone by an outbreak," he said, saying he and his wife Tammy would get tests.
Murphy also said New Jersey has seen 356 more coronavirus cases and 40 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the number of confirmed cases statewide to 164,164. READ MORE.
At its peak, the virus took 460 lives in New Jersey in 24 hours, Murphy had announced at his April 30 press conference. He has taken a staged approach to reopening, to avoid a second wave of virus transmission.
Last month, other activists had held protests around the state to push the governor to reopen more businesses and facilities. Photos show those protestors standing close together without face coverings.
More than 109,000 Americans have died of coronavirus as of June 1, over a three-month period in which many began isolating. For contrast, the CDC estimates that 61,000 people died of the flu during the entire 2017-2018 flu season, and fewer during last year's season.
Last week's protests around the state were held in the wake of the Death of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. Four Minneapolis police officers have been criminally charged in connection with Floyd's death, and protests have taken place around New Jersey and the country.
At the press conference Monday, Murphy also announced that swimming pools will be able to reopen this summer, and that he would release full guidance on Tuesday.
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