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N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy Says He ‘Can’t Imagine’ Enforcing Social Distancing Rules on Protesters

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy speaks after taking the oath of office in Trenton, N.J., January 16, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy indicated Monday that he has no plans to enforce social distancing rules on large groups gathering for anti-racism protests even as non-essential businesses are allowed to reopen only in phases and other large groups are prohibited.

“I can’t imagine what it would look like if we said to people, ‘Actually, you have to stay in. You have to ignore systemic racism — I’m sorry, just ignore it. Stay in,’” the governor said during his daily coronavirus briefing. I can’t imagine what that looks like as it relates to public safety.”

The governor attended protests in Hillside and Westfield, two of the more than 130 protests across New Jersey over the weekend in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for close to nine minutes, persisting even after Floyd lost consciousness.

New Jersey has been hit harder by the coronavirus than any state except neighboring New York, with more than 12,200 deaths from the infection since early March.

Murphy last month extended his state’s stay at home order, which has been in place since March 21, limiting gatherings to a maximum of 25 people and enforced the temporary shutdown of non-essential businesses. Dozens of businesses and residents have been charged with violating the stay at home order.

The governor acknowledged the risks the large protests pose to controlling the spread of the virus and encouraged those who participated to get tested for coronavirus, but noted that many protesters have worn face masks during the demonstrations.

“We cannot let what happened across New Jersey this weekend be undone by an outbreak,” Murphy said. “What all these numbers tell us is that the spread of Covid-19 continues to slow and that is again why I encourage everyone who took part in a march or a peaceful protest this weekend to get tested.”

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