BRICK – Starting May 19, indoor and outdoor capacity limits due to COVID-19 are being eased, so should people still have to wear masks while shopping at the Brick Farmers’ Market?
It should be optional, says Mayor John G. Ducey, who wrote a letter dated May 5 to NJ Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher, who asked the secretary to revisit an April 30 state edict requiring masks at outdoor farmers’ markets. This was also before the CDC announced that indoor masking would not be needed for fully vaccinated people – something Governor Phil Murphy hasn’t changed as of press time.
Fisher wrote: “Current guidelines indicate that wearing a mask remains in effect as it relates to large outdoor gatherings especially if social distancing cannot be maintained.”
All farmers, vendors and market customers should continue to wear a mask while at the market, regardless of vaccination status, his letter said.
Mayor Ducey replied to Fisher that Brick Township had implemented modified plans to host the farmers’ market in 2020. Face masks were required for staff, vendors and shoppers, and the mask requirement was diligently enforced, he said.
This year, the mayor said the guidelines should be revisited to reflect the nationwide progress that has been made in managing the public health crisis, and that each farmers’ market should be able to make the best determination for their specific event.
“In terms of global change, the numbers in Brick Township continue to decline,” he wrote.
Mayor Ducey based his request on the Centers for Disease Control’s Guidance for Organizing Large Events and Gatherings, the Risks to Consider section of the outdoor gathering guidelines coupled with the Promoting Healthy Behaviors and Reduce Spread section.
The township made several modifications to the Farmers’ Market last year that were based on CDC guidelines, including adding space between vendors, implementing a one-way layout to manage social distancing for shoppers, and providing staff shoppers (for anyone who was uncomfortable shopping) to collect requested items and hand deliver them to people waiting in a designated area.
Other safety precautions made to ensure public safety at the market included the installation of physical barriers at each stand and separating the products from the shoppers.
Also, touching the produce or other wares was not permitted, signage was posted to remind shoppers to social distance, and the township employed dedicated staff to ensure compliance with the existing policies.
These and other modifications remain in place for the 2021 Farmers’ Market.
Mayor Ducey said the administration expected the opportunity to make rules and modifications for 2021 based on the number of cases in town, the event’s setting, the length of the event, the number and crowding of people at the event and the behavior of the attendees.
“By taking away our right to make the best decision for our town, you are illustrating the disconnect that exists between the people on the ground in the middle of this pandemic, our citizens and the people who think they know best,” wrote the mayor to Fisher.
The mayor invited the secretary to come to the Brick Farmers’ Market to see, first-hand, the changes that have been made and to explain why masks are mandatory.
There were several anti-mask comments on the Brick Farmers’ Market Facebook page recently. One person wrote, “Facemasks are LAME! Every person I talked to there that was over 55 had their vaccine. Why the masks?? I’ll grow my own food.”
Another person wrote, “It’s outside!!!!!! I guess I won’t be going either!!”
“When you take the decisions out of our hands with no support, you create distrust and negativity that we find unnecessary and unwarranted,” Mayor Ducey wrote, and asked that the state reconsider the mask directive for farmers’ markets.