New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he is issuing an executive order requiring residents to wear face coverings in public amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The order will force everyone to have their mouths and noses covered when they can’t practice social distancing on sidewalks, in grocery stores, or on public transportation, he said. While there will be a three-day notice for compliance, Cuomo said violators of the order may face “a civil penalty.”
“If you are going to be in a situation, in public, where you come into contact with other people in a situation that is not socially distanced you must have a mask or cloth covering your nose and mouth,” Cuomo said during a press conference in Albany. “You don’t have the right to infect me.”
On Wednesday, Maryland issued a similar executive order requiring masks to be worn in retail stores, starting on Saturday. It signaled a continued coordinated effort by state officials to curtail the spread of the virus. Los Angeles has also previously instituted a similar rule under their public health order.
So far, more than 11,586 people have died and 203,377 more have been infected with the virus in New York State, Cuomo said on Wednesday. Over the last 24 hours alone, 752 people died despite the decreases in the number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions.
“It’s over when people know I’m 100 percent safe, and I don’t have to worry about this. When does that happen? When we have a vaccine,” he said, stressing the state is starting to move to a “new normal.” “Until you have a vaccine until you have the medical treatment, what do you do? How are you building the bridge? Well, it’s going to be a phased reopening.”
Cuomo’s executive order comes hours after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave similar guidance, stating that supermarkets and grocery stores must now “require” customers to wear masks or some sort of face covering. De Blasio said that anyone who refuses to comply with the mask policy “should not be allowed in,” and noted that stores “have a right to have those rules in place.”
“Those grocery store workers, those supermarket workers... they did not expect to be on the front lines of an international crisis,” de Blasio said. “This will help everyone to remember when they’re in that kind of space it’s so important to protect each other.”
While the outbreak appears to be plateauing, Cuomo said there are roughly 2,000 new cases confirmed in the state every day. The economy won’t be able to make a full comeback until there’s a vaccine, which scientists have said will take up to a year and a half, he said.
Cuomo said the next step in coping with the pandemic will be focusing on “aggressive” antibody and diagnostic testing.
The “gradual process” to reopening—in coordination with six surrounding states—will also require residents to remain vigilant to social distancing to continue the outbreak’s decline.
The Empire State, which has been most affected by the virus, has already developed a COVID-19 antibody test and state officials are working with the FDA to get it approved. Cuomo said this week that New York will begin administering 2,000 antibody tests daily with a new finger prick test.
“The single best tool to doing this gauging is large scale testing—test, trace, and isolate,” Cuomo said. He added that in addition to tests, New York needs an “army of tracers” to find people in contact with those who have the virus in order to prevent further spreading.
Cuomo said on Wednesday that New York has performed more than half a million tests—the most in the country—but “can only get 60,000 tests per month.” At that rate, he said, the country cannot begin phase two of reopening the country, and he called on the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act to compel companies to make more tests because the private sector cannot make enough to meet the demand.
“We cannot do it without federal support, and I’ve been saying it for days,” Cuomo said.
New York will also prioritize antibody testing for health-care workers and first responders to ensure those on the frontlines are protected in case a resurgence does occur.
In conjunction with tests, Cuomo said Wednesday that the state will start determining which groups of businesses are most essential to the economy and which are able to protect employees and the public from further spreading the virus—and then begin re-opening businesses from there.