Cuomo issues executive order requiring everyone to wear masks in public when unable to be socially distant

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign an executive order directing all New Yorkers to wear face masks while out in public, he announced Wednesday afternoon.

“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 a cloth covering nose and mouth,” Mr. Cuomo said during his daily press briefing. 

Social distancing guidance requires people who do not live in the same household to maintain at least six feet between each other.

The order will take effect Saturday and will apply to any public situation: grocery stores, public transit and even walks where you can’t maintain social distance.

“Go out for a walk because you need to get out of the house. The dog is getting on your nerves, fine. Don’t infect me. You don’t have a right to infect me,”  Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor directed local governments to enforce the order and said initially there would be no penalties.

“You’re not going to go to jail for not wearing a mask,” he said, adding that if there is flagrant disregard for the order, he may consider civil penalties.

The executive order comes on the same day a separate order is set to go into effect mandating that essential workers wear masks while interacting with the public.

Gov. Cuomo said during his daily briefing that the curve continues to flatten while also announcing another 752 reported deaths related to the COVID-19 virus. He said it’s “almost disrespectful” to suggest that the high number of deaths is positive news, but that the number is indicative of a plateau.

Of those deaths, 707 were reported at hospitals and 45 at nursing homes. Mr. Cuomo said state health officials are working to contact facilities to collect data on additional people who may have passed away from COVID-19 but aren’t reflected in the count because they weren’t at a hospital or nursing home.

There are now more than 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York, with more than 22,600 reported in Suffolk County.

“You still have on a day-to-day basis, about 2,000 people who are being diagnosed with COVID,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We’re still in the woods.”

Though the number of confirmed cases is still increasing, Mr. Cuomo said the health care system and infection spread have been stabilized and are manageable at this point.

He said that restarting the economy will largely depend on the development of a vaccine, which could take up to 18 months, as well as continued testing and treatment development.

“It’s not a reopening. We’re going to a different place,” the governor said, describing the ‘new normal’ that will begin taking shape over the next 18 months.

He said testing will play a huge role in sending people back to work in a calibrated, phased way. A saliva test for the virus, less invasive than a nose swab, is currently being developed, Mr. Cuomo said, and the New York Department of Health has developed its own antibody finger prick test that will begin testing 2,000 people a day this week.

He’s asked the Food & Drug Administration to approve a method that could test up to 100,000 people a day. First responders, health care and other essential workers would be prioritized for the tests.

“We’ve all been saying thank you to the health care workers, and that’s nice. But they need support…actions more than words,” Mr. Cuomo said. “They could wind up being spreaders if we don’t know.”

He likened the need for antibody testing capacity—which will largely determine when people can get back to work—to the state’s need for ventilators earlier this month. New York is now in a position to redistribute ventilators elsewhere, Mr. Cuomo said, noting that 100 will be sent to Michigan and 50 to Maryland.

The governor repeatedly called on the federal government to provide funding to help expand testing capacity. “The more testing, the more open the economy,” he said.