Waiting in a motorized wheelchair for a subway in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Cara Liebowitz said she had one feeling when Gov. Kathy Hochul dropped the mask mandate on public transportation and shared a cheeky MTA poster with new guidance that stated “you do you.”

“I was honestly horrified,” Liebowitz recalled.

The MTA poster reads “masks are encouraged, but optional.” It depicts four figures, with one wearing a mask only over its nose. “Let’s respect each other’s choices,” the poster continues.

The MTA's poster on the latest mask guidance.

The poster, which will be at some 10,000 MTA locations, drew some laughs on Twitter. But Liebowitz, who has cerebral palsy, asthma, and is at high risk of COVID-19 complications, wasn’t a fan of the joke.

“Your decision could seriously disable or kill somebody from COVID,” she said. “People are still dying from COVID and getting long COVID.”

Health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, still recommend that people wear masks on transit. People with weakened immune systems and senior citizens could also be put at risk by the new guidance. Johns Hopkins University estimates about one in 16 U.S. adults is immunocompromised.

Hochul’s decision to drop the mandate came despite pleas from the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled to keep it in place, said Joe Rappaport, the group’s executive director. He said his nonprofit had met with the state Health Department, the MTA, and the governor’s office prior to Hochul’s announcement last week.

“The MTA told me, 'well the [health] commissioner endorsed this, so what’s the problem?'” Rappaport said. “And obviously that’s ridiculous, this was a political decision, not a decision that protects the health of transit riders.”

But MTA Chairman Janno Lieber said he’s just following the latest guidance of health experts at the state and federal level and it has nothing to do with politics.

“The epidemiologists and the health professionals have given their blessing to going to mask optional,” Lieber said, speaking at a press conference shortly after the governor announced the mandate was over.

The CDC still recommends wearing a mask on public transit.

Lieber, for his part, said he’ll still mask up. On the other hand, Richard Davey, head of New York City Transit, said he looked forward to not wearing a mask.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett agreed with dropping the mandate, but said the public should keep an eye on the number of COVID cases.

“We urge people to pay attention to their community level,” she said at the governor’s announcement.

The MTA was one of the last public transit agencies in the country to drop its mask mandate. A Florida judge ruled in April that the CDC had overstepped its authority by requiring masks on mass transit. San Francisco's BART system requires that masks be worn until Oct. 1, when it’s expected to drop the mandate. That leaves just Oakland, California’s ACTransit and Milwaukee, Wisconsin's MCTS with mask mandates, according to research compiled by the MTA.

London dropped its mask mandate on Transport for London last February, but mass transit systems in Spain and Japan still require face coverings.

Some experts believe if there’s another surge in cases during the winter, it could be harder to get the public to mask up again.

“You said, ‘you do you,’ or you said ‘it doesn’t really matter,’ so it’s not really looking at the long-term effects,” said Bruce Y. Lee, a professor at CUNY’s School of Public Health.

Previous mask guidance from the MTA.

But Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at NYU, doubted the poster would have any significant effect on straphanger behavior.

“My guess is that it isn’t going to matter much what they do in these ads,” Van Bavel said. “A lot of little nudges tend to not be effective in changing people’s behavior, especially as the pandemic has gone on, people tend to become more entrenched in some of their practices and beliefs around it.”

People who use the MTA’s Access-a-Ride program, a van or car service that MTA is legally mandated to provide because the subways aren’t fully accessible, feel particularly vulnerable now. Many of the customers are elderly or have a disability that puts them at high risk for COVID-19 complications and worry being in a vehicle with an unmasked driver could expose them to the virus.

“This truly makes me feel like the city and state don’t care about disabled lives. Not all of us can simply stay home,” said Eman Rimawi-Doster, the Access-A-Ride Campaign coordinator and organizer with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “Wearing a mask hurts no one. And I’m going to keep doing it because I care about my neighbors and also myself. I wish our government showed the same care.”

This story has been updated to include a quote from Eman Rimawi-Doster.