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To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Governor Cuomo issued an order on Wednesday requiring New Yorkers to wear masks in public when they are not able to maintain the minimum six feet of social distancing. The order, which goes into effect on Friday, will have a significant impact on crowded places like supermarkets and public transportation and is certain to change the look of public spaces, at least for the foreseeable future.
“Stopping the spread is everything,” Cuomo said in his announcement. “How can you not wear a mask when you’re going to come close to a person?” Cuomo added that local governments would enforce the rule, though people without masks would not be kicked off buses or subway cars; last week, a video circulated of a man who was violently removed from a bus by police in Philadelphia for not wearing a face covering, leading to that city’s changing its policy. While New York can issue civil fines for violators, there will be no criminal repercussions: “You’re not going to go to jail for not wearing a mask,” Cuomo said.
Similar orders have already been issued across the country: Last week, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy announced that residents — except for those under the age of 2 and those with relevant medical conditions — must wear face masks inside stores. In Puerto Rico, Governor Wanda Vázquez issued a similar order, with businesses instructed to prohibit entry to those without some kind of face covering.
As New Yorkers get used to the sight of a midtown sidewalk full of masked faces, Cuomo provided some practical guidance for the new rules. He said that a mask wouldn’t be required when you’re walking down an empty street, but if “you’re now at an intersection and there are people at the intersection and you’re going to be in proximity to other people,” you would be required to tie up. One pragmatic concern the governor did not address: the prevalence of mask wearing in the city as summer weather rolls in.