Via Reason, I can believe that he believes that demonstrating for social justice is not only more important than the daily livelihoods of millions but so important that public health restrictions to contain a pandemic should go out the window to facilitate it. He’s a Democrat, after all, and a rich one to boot. He won’t starve.

I just can’t believe he’d admit it. There are more than a million people in New Jersey on unemployment. How are you feeling today as a voter if your business just went under due to a stay-at-home order, now watching Phil Murphy shrug at mass gatherings because the tenets of wokeness require it?

Meh, New Jersey is solid blue. They’ll reelect him, just like Andrew Cuomo will be reelected in the COVID-body-count capital of the United States.

On Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) thanked state residents for protesting the unjust police killing of George Floyd in large numbers, and commended them for participating in “the transformational moment of our time,” even though New Jersey’s coronavirus mitigation plan calls for people to gather outside in groups of no more than 25—and in fact, state authorities have fined citizens for organizing anti-lockdown protests. But for Murphy, the two forms of protest are “in different orbits.”

“I don’t want to make light of this, and I’ll probably get lit up by everyone who owns a nail salon in the state,” said Murphy. “But it’s one thing to protest what day nail salons are opening, and it’s another to come out in peaceful protest, overwhelmingly, about somebody who was murdered right before our eyes.”

Not true, my man. We can have a foolish debate over the relative urgency of murderous police violence towards black Americans and of ending depression-causing economic restrictions on the country writ large, but urgency is irrelevant to the epidemiological reality. In one case demonstrators were criticized — understandably — for risking the health of people around them by holding large gatherings. In the other, demonstrators are lionized and held harmless for participating in even larger gatherings. The virus won’t punish one group more than the other based on the relative merits of their case, needless to say, so what explains the disparate treatment by politicians?

Why can’t Murphy and every other Democratic leader say, “I share your outrage at the death of George Floyd but containing this disease remains our utmost priority and mass gatherings are hurting that effort”? Most demonstrators would ignore him but maybe it would help at the margins. At a minimum, his own public pronouncements about gatherings would be consistent.

At least Murphy has the excuse of being a politician, ever eager to pander to voters. What excuse do scientists have for holding a double standard on mass gatherings?

But the risks of congregating during a global pandemic shouldn’t keep people from protesting racism, according to dozens of public health and disease experts who signed an open letter in support of the protests.

“White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” the letter said…

Local governments should not break up crowded demonstrations “under the guise of maintaining public health,” the experts said in their open letter. They urged law enforcement agencies not to use tear gas, smoke and other irritants, saying they could make people more susceptible to infection and worsen existing health conditions.

True enough about tear gas (“tear gas may cause damage to people’s lungs and make them more susceptible to getting a respiratory illness, according to studies on the risks of exposure”) but shouting and chanting will contribute to the spread as well and there’s been lots of that among the demonstrators.

Is this the explanation?

There are two health-related differences between the anti-lockdown protests in April and the police-brutality protests now. I can’t quantify it, obviously, but based on photos the current demonstrators seem more likely to wear masks than the anti-lockdown demonstrators were. That’s probably a function of ideology, with right-wingers more resistant to mask-wearing than left-wingers. The other difference is the state of the epidemic: With daily deaths having declined from their April peak and now flattened out, it seems “safer” to protest now than it did then. We’ve endured several cases of mass gatherings outdoors over the past two months (with the anti-lockdown protests as exhibit A) without any resulting spike in infections, which may have made public officials more confident that the current demonstrations are less dangerous than we fear. If George Floyd had been killed on April 1, say, and demonstrations had been organized a week later, maybe the emphasis on public health from the likes of Phil Murphy would have been different.

I think we’re all wagering right now, in fact, that the epidemic is in temporary remission and we’re acting accordingly. But is it?

There’s one other health-related difference between April and now. The current demonstrations are much bigger than the anti-lockdown protests, which usually drew no more than a few hundred people. The current rallies are large, they’re widespread, and participants are often packed in shoulder-to-shoulder. “Epidemiologists said the protests would almost certainly lead to more cases of the virus,” said the Times, but the exact number will matter. If there’s a small spike two weeks from now, supporters of the demonstrations will claim either that it’s a small price worth paying to protest the injustice of Floyd’s murder or that it’s sufficiently negligible that it can’t be traced to the protests rather than, say, to the country reopening for business across many states.

If there a big spike, Murphy and other leaders will have some ‘splaining to do.

Exit question: If there’s no spike later this month, what’s the argument for keeping fans out of outdoor summer sports events? Why not limited capacity attendance, at least?

Update: This glib idiot is the chairman of the New York City Council’s health committee:

An anti-lockdown protester could just as easily say, “Let’s be clear about something: if there is a spike in coronavirus cases in the next two weeks, don’t blame the protesters. Blame mass unemployment.” No one’s going to listen to political leaders going forward when they warn about mass gatherings, needless to say. The only thing that’ll encourage them to keep practicing social distancing is if there really is a spike in a few weeks.