Jersey City Fil-Ams react to wearing of face coverings

by Ricky Rillera

JERSEY CITY, NJ – The latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll reports that nearly 60% of New Jerseyans believe the state is moving at the right pace to lift COVID-19 social distancing and reopen businesses.  Another 19% feel it is happening too quickly while 16% say too slowly.

The results are from a statewide poll of 1,502 adults contacted by live callers on landlines and cellphones from April 22 to May 2.

But one interesting indicator in the poll was that even though large numbers of them accept the pace at which the state is moving to reopen, many are worried about a variety of consequences that come with the COVID-19 and ongoing restrictions

Their worries are about their household getting sick from the virus, finances and job security, local hospitals running out of necessary equipment and supplies, permanent closure of local businesses in their communities, and the availability of food and household essentials.

The poll reflects statewide results and not specific to a city or town. Some city officials use the poll for many reasons, one of them is planning.

In Jersey City, restrictions on some public places such as parks and farmers’ markets have been lifted with certain conditions. The city council even passed a resolution May 6 which urged residents to wear face coverings in public and encouraged them to continue hand-washing and social distancing.

Read: City Council urges residents …

Some residents are skeptical about the timing of reopening parks and farmers’ markets for fear of a resurgence of the virus in certain neighborhoods especially if some people merely took the resolution as an awareness campaign with no punitive consequences. They think that the resolution “has no teeth, no bite” to hold non-complying individuals or entities accountable. Others say that it is up to individuals to exercise self-discipline in protecting themselves and others.

The Philippine Daily Mirror has invited a group of randomly selected individuals of the Fil-Am community to start a dialogue on the impact of the resolution.  The participants come from a diverse group across Jersey City who are deeply ingrained for many years in their own neighborhoods and are concerned with their families’ welfare and their safety.

This reporter fielded two questions. They were asked to comment on the resolution if residents would observe it and second, if certain fines or penalties were to be imposed to non-compliant individuals. A majority agree with the resolution and favor imposing a fine or penalty.

Favors penalty or fine

“Ninety percent will observe it, there is always the 10 percent” of the population who would not, said Nestor Palugod Enriquez, a navy veteran and a local historian who has lived in Ward E downtown area for 45 years. He favors imposing a fine or penalty to anyone who ignores or does not follow the spirit of the resolution.

Difficulty in enforcement

Jenn Castaneda thinks that people will observe face coverings. “I go out to groceries or go for walks and I see people wearing masks. I believe people are still cautious or afraid of contracting the virus.” Although she also agrees to imposing fines, she said enforcement of it might be difficult. “For one, a lot of people are unemployed and most are already stressed. People’s nerves are stretched to limits, and the last thing they will probably need is to be fined for not wearing masks.”

A sprawling Lincoln Park in Jersey City which reopened on April 28, 2020. | YouTube

Not the right move

Lawyer Gary Abasolo of Ward E, who has an office behind the State courthouse, has a different view. “I do not believe imposing more “severe” restrictions, like, require Jersey City residents to wear masks while outside in public spaces (i.e., sidewalks or parks), when we are now about almost two full months into this lockdown. “This is absolutely the wrong move to do,” he said. “I don’t believe a lot of residents would receive that well.”

He adds: “[E}specially in the parks, where it is outdoors, to require people to wear masks is absolutely not necessary and not justified. “…I myself, do not wear masks, whenever I am outside, especially at a park.”  However, he admits that going inside stores is different. “People should still wear masks indoors. But outdoors? Not necessarily, as long as people practice social distancing.”

Use fire trucks to disinfect streets, parks

“Similar mandate was already signed by Gov. Phil Murphy two weeks ago. Hoboken is another,” said broadcast journalist and retired real estate broker, Fiorel Salvo of Ward B. “According to WHO and CDC, this is to protect the public from you assuming you are asymptomatic. If it is law, following it is a must, and for good reason, too.”

However, he is more concern of what he will get from others while in public places. ‘WHO, CDC and other medical organizations conclude that this coronavirus can remain active in surfaces from a few hours to days or a week,” Salvo said. “Many case reports detail how a person can be infected by walking and touching things. So, why do I not see disinfectant treatment of streets and parks especially now that we are slowly going back to normal. Our fire trucks are just waiting.”

“So, why do I not see disinfectant treatment of the streets and parks especially now that we are slowly going back to normal. Our fire trucks are just waiting.”

Fiorel Salvo

Protect each other, care for one another

Business and community leader Maricar Taino from Ward A trusts that residents are doing their best effort to protect one another “because as a community we are in it together.”

She believes that wearing a mask serves to protect each other and to care for one another. “This is especially needed for residents since Jersey City is one of the highest cases of COVID-19 in New Jersey,” said the mother with 4 children who attend school.

She favors imposing a penalty to those who fail and refuse to wear masks. “It is everyone’s right to fight for the health of our family, associates and the less fortunate,” Taino said. “If you choose to refuse to observe, you are taking away our rights and worth. That is unacceptable and deserving of a penalty.”

Stores engaged in price gouging | Courtesy of CBS

Penalize stores engaged in price-gouging

Ria Serrano, an active Filipino American community leader residing in Ward E, thinks that Jersey City locals will observe the wearing of face coverings. “I’ve seen them wearing it when they are doing groceries,” she said. “However, the challenge lies on the availability of the masks, the cost of the disposable ones, and the reliability of the filter of cloth masks.”

She believes that it would be unfair to impose a fine or penalty. “Especially, a lot of individuals have lost their jobs and would not be able to afford this daily. I think the city leaders should continue to impose penalties on stores that do price gouging instead.”

Penalize establishments

Vivian Velasco of Ward C said that residents will most likely observe preventive care of wearing masks in public, social distancing, and handwashing. She was pleased to see that essential establishments (pharmacies, groceries) in Journal Square have a No Mask/No Entry signage at their entrances and are imposing it to their patrons. She also supports the use of facemasks and practice of social distancing in parks.

Owners of establishments at Journal Square require patrons to wear face coverings before they enter the facility. “No mask/No Entry” | Contributed photo

“If they continue this requirement until mid-June and results in flattening the curve, people will have no choice but follow the No Mask/No Entry sign in establishments,” she said. “Fine the establishments if they don’t implement it. At the parks, police can issue fines or summonses to groups of more than 5 congregating and/or staying less than 6 ft. away from other groups. This will help avoid resurgence of the coronavirus.”

Residents must act responsibly

Grace Labaguis, an entrepreneur from Ward A “strongly supports Resolution 20-307 introduced by Councilman-at-Large Lavarro.” However, she believes that it must be “strictly enforced to help prevent or at least slow down the course of the outbreak.”

“It is imperative to impose a penalty to get all Jersey City residents comply with the resolution,” she said. “With the reopening of businesses soon, wearing a mask should be mandatory as social distancing is difficult to control. As residents, we must act responsibly and do our part in keeping our community safe.”

Save lives, follow what is necessary

“In addition to following CDC guidelines on COVID-19, it is a moral obligation for each of us to avoid the spread of the virus. This is to protect not only one’s self but the other,” said community leader Linda Rupel who has lived in Jersey City for more than 30 years. “We live in a diverse community with diverse cultures and beliefs, but no matter what is yours, we need to save lives by following what is necessary.”

Rupel added that if we want the economy to restart, people should not be stupid and do foolish things. “Let’s not be political, it will bring us nowhere.”  She praised the city council for their unanimous support of Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro for spearheading the resolution.

She favors imposing fines to those who do not observe the resolution, but on a graduated scale. For instance, warnings can be given to first-time violators and impose a penalty of $500 to repeat offenders.

Joey Mayo of the Knights of Rizal with the Fil-Am community in Jersey City during a celebration of Filipino Heritage Month. Perhaps they can be one of the channels to educate the community about the use of facemasks, social distancing, and handwashing at this time. | Photo Lambert Parong/Balitang New York

Education is the key

Mario Brizuela of Ward C believes a majority will observe the resolution. “There will be a small number of non-compliant residents, of course. Mask is protective. I protect you; you protect me — so there are mutual benefits in its proper use.”

“Education is the key,” Brizuela said, instead of imposing penalties. “Penalizing can serve in the immediate term but long term, it’s still personal accountability towards the health of each other that matters.”

Risks of not following guidelines

Longtime community leader Ledy Almadin thinks that “as long as we continue to inform the public of the risks of not following guidelines and its consequences,” people will observe the wearing of face coverings in public. If it were a law, some form of penalty should be enforced to anyone who violates it.

Protect yourself and others

Lumen Castaneda, an 83-year-old retired schoolteacher and community leader, said that wearing of masks keeps us safe from what is out there, which up to now is unknown. “With its use, we prevent people from getting the virus because we really do not know what this virus has.”

She said that some people may claim to be strong and will not be affected by it and will opt for the contrary. “Should they be fined in one way or another? It might help but it should be a personal discipline that needs to be committed without punishment from the law,” she said. “Protect yourself and others should be the motto for this COVID-19.”

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