COURTESY NAACP
Dr. Renee Baskerville after securing donations of masks teamed up with the NAACP to hand out free masks at Glenfield Park last week. The “mask enforcers” will continue to be out at parks giving away free masks.

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

As hundreds of Montclairians waited in line to be tested for COVID-19 at the Wally Choice Center in Glenfield Park last week, a “mask enforcement” team handed out masks and gave the 101 on wearing them, which is now required even outdoors.

Former Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville donated the masks to the health committee of the NAACP’s Montclair chapter. The committee, led by Rosita Dobson, put together a team of “enforcers” who headed out to Glenfield Park the evening of July 15. 

On July 8, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order requiring residents to wear face coverings in outdoor public spaces when it is not practicable to socially distance and keep six feet from others, except where doing so would inhibit that individual’s health, where the individual is under 2 years old, or where individuals cannot feasibly wear a face covering, such as when eating or drinking at outdoor dining areas.

“As I’ve said before, we know this virus is a lot less lethal outdoors than indoors, but that does not mean it is not lethal,” Murphy said. “The hot spots we’re seeing across the nation and certain worrisome transmission trends in New Jersey require us to do more. In the absence of a national strategy on face coverings, we’re taking this step to ensure that we can continue on our road back as one New Jersey family.”

Social distance and mask up even in parks, the group members say.

Baskerville and the NAACP chapter hope to spread the message that mask wearing helps contain the spread of COVID-19. On Thursday, July 16, Baskerville was back out, this time at Rand Park, handing out masks and sanitizer. 

State Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli pointed to a report by Healthaffairs.org that found that in states that mandated face masks in public, the daily COVID-19 growth rate declined. According to the study, estimates suggest that as many as 230,000 to 450,000 COVID-19 cases were possibly averted by May 22 by these mandates. 

The findings suggest that requiring face-mask use in public might help in mitigating COVID-19 spread. Fifteen states have mandated masking — including neighboring states New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware and Maryland — and the list is growing.

The NAACP mask team plans to hit other parks in the future to hand out masks and educate residents on the importance of wearing them. They are seeking more mask donations to continue making Montclair residents safe. 

“By virtue of the mandate issued by Gov. Phil Murphy, the Montclair NAACP has engaged in a mask distribution effort,” chapter president Albert Pelham said. “The NAACP Health Committee is committed to promoting the safety of Montclair residents in the midst of the COVID crisis.”

After remaining relatively flat for a time, since July 1 Montclair has had 19 new cases of COVID-19 and two deaths, bringing the totals to 464 positive cases and 54 deaths. Essex County has experienced the highest number of deaths of any county in the state, with 1,843 confirmed deaths and 255 deaths probably due to the virus. 

And health officials are warning that COVID-19 is now affecting New Jersey’s younger population more.

Whereas the state had been reporting only a small number of COVID-19 cases in the 18-29 age group since the pandemic hit in March, officials have now seen that number almost double. It is the fastest-growing group testing positive for COVID-19, Persichilli said. 

In June, 22 percent of COVID-positive cases were in the 18-29 age group, up from the 12 percent reported in April. Graduation parties, and parties in general, are leading to the uptick in cases, Persichilli said.

In that age group, more than 700 have been hospitalized and 53 have died due to COVID, she said. While most experience moderate symptoms, many have no symptoms but could be carriers.

Baskerville, who is a physician, said, “Wearing a mask may prevent the person who is wearing the mask from spreading the virus through saliva, spitting while talking, laughing, sneezing, coughing, singing or mucus. Many people [who have coronavirus] are not aware that they have [it] and may be transmitting the virus through droplets and airborne means. The respiratory droplets can travel through the air about six feet.” 

She also wants to prepare students to get used to wearing masks properly and regularly as they begin to transition to a possible return to school in the fall. 

“Better that they begin the trial-and-error phase outside, where they may have greater social distancing, than wait until they are inside with few options,” Baskerville said. 

Murphy’s order also reiterates New Jersey’s policy of requiring face coverings in indoor spaces that are accessible to members of the public, such as retail, recreational and entertainment businesses, areas of government buildings open to the public, and buses, trains and stations, again with exceptions for health reasons and children under 2. 

It notes that situations when wearing a face covering would inhibit an individual’s health include when an individual is engaging in high-intensity aerobic or anaerobic activities, when an individual is in the water, and in other situations where the presence of a mask would pose a risk to the individual’s safety.

Montclair Deputy Chief of Police Wil Young said, “If an officer is dispatched to a complaint or observes a crowd with no masks, he/she will address the situation.”

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