Imposing a stricter measure to control the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he would start requiring people in New York to wear masks or face coverings in public whenever social distancing was not possible.
The order will take effect Saturday and will apply to people who cannot keep 6 feet apart from others in public settings, such as on a bus or subway, a crowded sidewalk or inside a grocery store.
“Stopping the spread is everything,” Cuomo said during his daily briefing in Albany. “How can you not wear a mask when you’re going to come close to a person?”
The new requirements are bound to make face coverings an inescapable and perhaps jarring sight in New York City for the foreseeable future. They could also introduce a level of mutual obligation and civic duty about wearing masks in public that is more firmly established in Asia than in the West.
Cuomo said local governments would enforce the order, but he noted that the failure to wear a face covering would not lead to people being ordered out of public transit. He said the state would consider issuing civil penalties to people who failed to abide by the order, but not criminal penalties.
“You’re not going to go to jail for not wearing a mask,” he said.
A similar rule was issued in New Jersey last week, requiring customers to wear face coverings inside stores. The order, issued by Gov. Philip Murphy, made it mandatory for all people inside stores to wear masks unless they are under 2 years old or have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask.
Signs have popped up at stores throughout New Jersey warning customers that they will not be allowed in unless they cover their faces. Some stores have taken a stronger stance, asking people without coverings to leave.
“These restrictions that I have laid out must be followed throughout the state,” Murphy said during an April 8 briefing. “We are taking the step to protect both customers and essential workers.”
The mandates were the latest social distance measures from two states that are at the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic. New York and New Jersey have worked in tandem since the outbreak, shuttering nonessential businesses at the same time and recently forming a coalition with neighboring states to coordinate the reopening of their economies.
New York and New Jersey are the only states to have issued broad orders mandating face coverings in most public settings, according to the National Governors Association. Puerto Rico and Guam have implemented similar measures.
Nonbinding guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage people to wear face coverings in settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
Cuomo said the new measures were necessary as the state continued to rein in the spread of the virus: On Tuesday, a key indicator involving the number of virus patients in hospitals improved for the first time since the outbreak began.
“All people in public must have a mask or nose covering, mouth and nose covering, and they must wear it in a situation where you cannot or are not maintaining social distancing,” Cuomo said.
The governor said a mask was not necessary if, for example, a person was walking down an empty street. But, he said, “You’re now at an intersection and there are people at the intersection and you’re going to be in proximity to other people? Put the mask on.”
He added, “You don’t have a right to infect me.”
In New Jersey, Murphy said businesses would set their own policies on how to deal with a customer who did not wear a face covering.
The New Jersey order does allow people who refuse to wear a mask for medical or other reasons to enter a store and spend a limited amount of time shopping for essential goods, Parimal Garg, the state’s deputy chief counsel, explained during the April 8 briefing.
“I think that’s benevolent,” Murphy responded. “I’d prefer to even be tougher than that.”