Under a recent COVID-19 executive order issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo, every New Yorker must now wear a mask in public when social distancing isn't an option. The new rule went into effect on Friday, April 17th, at 8 p.m., and over the weekend, New Yorkers were spotted wearing masks, not wearing masks, kind of wearing masks, improperly wearing masks...
As Cuomo would say, this is my personal opinion, not fact: we should be wearing masks whenever we are outside in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio or Cuomo should be mandating this without the when-you-can't-social-distance caveat that is more fitting to less populated areas, because it's nearly impossible to know if you'll be able to stay 6-feet away from a person at any given moment once you're out there on the streets of New York.
At the moment, we have half-measures mixed in with non-compliance.
And no matter what, that was somewhat expected. The Washington Post looked at the politics and history of masks in this country, and how that may be informing decisions today.
Notably, most Americans have not dealt with an outbreak like this in their lifetime—our "antipathy to masks is deeply ingrained in American culture, unlike in some Asian countries, where many people wear them whenever they are in public, as protection against bugs and air pollution." It's entirely possible that what we're dealing with now could change our attitude towards masks in the future, but we aren't there yet... weren't there 100 years ago, either.
In 1918, the Washington Post reports, "At the height of the flu pandemic, political leaders tried to get Americans to wear masks to work, and millions did. But many refused. In San Francisco, Mayor James Rolph ordered all residents to wear masks anytime they set foot in public ... But compliance was hard to achieve, even with the threat of fines and arrests. It did not help when Rolph and the city’s health officer were photographed at a boxing match without masks."
Indeed, the nation's leaders aren't helping matters. When President Donald Trump announced the federal government was recommending wearing masks, he simultaneously said he would not be wearing one. “It’s going to be really a voluntary thing,” he said. “I’m choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it and that’s okay.” As became abundantly clear this weekend, many Trump supporters are not only following his lead, but outright protesting masks, social distancing, and other life-saving measures that have been enacted to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was seen in Prospect Park without a mask after announcing New Yorkers should cover their faces outside. His team later said he had a scarf he would pull up if someone was within six feet. He's since been photographed with a bandana.
Cuomo has said at his daily briefings that he will wear them in public, but not at briefings, despite the presence of members of the media. One photo has been shared of him wearing some loose cloth as a mask, along with one of his daughters improperly wearing a mask that doesn't cover her nose.
It's easy to feel helpless in the face of this horrible pandemic (though here are some ways you can help), and wearing a mask when we're not inside of our homes is one small thing all of us can do. These masks or face coverings are life-saving tools, and very easy to get since you do not need a medical mask (save those for the healthcare workers, please).
It's believed that COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets, which is why wearing a mask is recommended.
In a joint statement from several experts — Peter Teunis, Biostatistician at Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Marianne AB van der Sande, Head of the Department of Public Health, Professor of Public Health Epidemiology, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Belgium and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Julius Global Health, UMCU, Netherlands—said that studies have shown that "even improvised home-made masks contributed to protection against respiratory infections... This suggests that reduction of transmission in the population by population-wide deployment of face masks is plausible, which is also supported by some modeling studies." They added that "this could not be unequivocally shown in real-life studies," though offered "additional positive effects, including: Less direct involuntary hand to mouth/nose contacts," and reducing the "social stigmatization of mask wearing/face covering.”
Take it from a doctor:
Our unscientific poll showed that most people are choosing to follow the mask-wearing guidance in NYC:
But another poll we took on our Instagram account confirmed what we knew, which is that many runners are not wearing masks, despite posing a greater danger to anyone they pass by. As epidemiologist Stephen Morse recently told us, "Runners and bicyclists usually breathe more than the leisurely walker, so they should take special care with social distancing.
In summation: would it kill you to wear a mask? No, quite the opposite. I don't want to see the bottom half of your pretty face in public until this nightmare is behind us.