Governor Phil Murphy both defended his mask and vaccine mandates and dismissed criticism of him going maskless at a large indoor event last Saturday during last night's second and final debate for governor.

Murphy's COVID policies were among the first issues that triggered sharp exchanges with republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. Murphy defended his mandate requiring all students and staff mask-up inside school buildings. Murphy said it was "quite clear" vaccinations and masking is the "playbook. "Willfully ignoring that right now," Murphy said, "Is putting people's live at risk, and we're not going to do that.

Ciattarelli disagreed, and said he would not require kids to mask up and was against mandatory vaccine mandates.

Ciattarelli also took the opportunity to punch Murphy for going maskless at a large indoor event last weekend, and cited a report published at nj1015.com Tuesday that showed a largely maskless crowd -- including Murphy -- attending Saturday's "Diversity Ball" in Asbury Park.

"I just heard the governor talk about mask mandates," Ciattarelli said, "But as the news reported today, he participated in a very large indoor conference in which nobody was wearing masks. I do think our leadership needs to be consistent."

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Murphy brushed off the criticism. "Are you wearing a mask right now," Murphy asked his challenger. "We're on stage," Murphy explained, "I've done 227 COVID updates, I wear the mask on stage, as I did tonight, take it off and put it on when I leave."

Photo's published by savejersey.com did show the Governor maskless on stage at Saturday's event. It's not clear if he masked up in the crowd, but if he did, he was among a very small minority.

Ciattarelli wasn't buying the governor's explanation. "The CDC recommends that masks be worn for large indoor gatherings," the GOP challenger pressed, "He was at a large indoor gathering...and nobody had masks on."

Before the moderators forced the candidates to move on to other issues, Murphy sniped back at Ciattarelli, "Nice try."

Murphy did issue guidance in July that urged all New Jersey residents to mask-up indoors, especially at large gatherings, regardless of vaccination status."

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