New York to require face coverings in busy public places

Coronavirus

NEW YORK (AP) — Face coverings will be required in busy spaces while New York City officials said they would create an emergency food reserve and take other steps to safeguard residents’ sustenance. Meanwhile, the mayor urged a cautious approach to reviving the economy.

Here are the latest coronavirus developments in New York:

FACE COVERINGS

New York residents will be required to wear face coverings when they are out in public and coming in close contact with other people, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

The new outbreak-fighting mandate will require a mask or face covering on busy streets, public transit or any situation where people cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing. The promised executive order from Cuomo echoes recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a way to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The order takes effect Friday, the governor said, and either a mask or a cloth covering such as a bandanna will work.

“Stopping the spread is everything. How can you not wear a mask when you’re going to come close to a person?” Cuomo said at his daily briefing. “On what theory would you not do that?”

The governor said there will initially be no civil penalties for noncompliance, but he’s urging merchants to enforce it among customers. 

Though hospitalizations from the outbreak are leveling off, New York officials are trying to dramatically reduce transmission rates as the death toll rises. New York recorded 752 deaths Tuesday, for a total of more than 11,000 in just over a month. 

Those figures don’t include roughly 4,000 other deaths in New York City during the outbreak that city officials say were probably caused by the virus, but haven’t been confirmed by a lab test.

Cuomo’s announcement came hours after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for stores to make customers wear face coverings in order to protect store workers against exposure. De Blasio had previously recommended face coverings in public in the city.

The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

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FOOD PLAN

In a city where 1.2 million residents — including one in five children — already struggled at times to feed themselves, the number is expected to grow as an estimated half-million New Yorkers have lost or are likely to lose their jobs in the immediate future.

“We will make sure everyone gets the food they need,” de Blasio said in unveiling a $170 million plan to help. 

The city already is handing out 250,000 free meals a day at schools and delivering 25,000 a day to senior citizens. Officials expect to provide 10 million free meals in April and expect the need to grow to as much as 15 million in May. 

Meanwhile, the city has contacted some 11,000 taxi and livery drivers — whose livelihoods have been shattered as people stay home — to hire them to deliver meals to those who can’t leave home, the mayor said. 

While officials said the city food supply is stable, they also plan to create a $50 million reserve of as many as 18 million shelf-stable meals. 

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NURSING HOMES

Cuomo said his administration will release “as much data as possible” on the nearly 2,500 people who’ve died in nursing homes of COVID-19 in New York since mid-March.

But New York is still refusing to release the numbers of fatalities at individual nursing homes, which account for about one of five of the virus-related deaths statewide. That’s in contrast to some other states.

Cuomo’s administration has cited concerns over individual privacy.

“You pass away in a nursing home, or your parent passes away in a nursing home,” Cuomo said. “Should your parent’s picture really be on the front page of the newspaper the next day?”

New York has released county-level data that showed 2,477 deaths at nursing homes and 583 deaths at adult-care facilities, largely in hard-hit New York City and its suburbs.

Federal officials are coming under increasing pressure to start publicly tracking coronavirus infections and deaths in nursing homes.

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THE ECONOMIC EQUATION

Cuomo said getting people back to work safely before a vaccine is developed will require not only large-scale testing, but tracing the personal contacts of people who test positive and isolating infected people.

But testing and tracing people in a state of 19 million is not possible without federal help, he said.

“That is a massive undertaking,” he said. “It’s intelligent but it’s massive.”

In the meantime, New York will begin testing 2,000 people a day for virus antibodies this week via a newly developed finger-prick test. Priority will be given to nurses, New York City police and other first responders, so they can know if they’ve been infected.

Both Cuomo and de Blasio said leaders need to be deliberative about trying to rev up the economy without creating an opportunity for the coronavirus to come roaring back.

“I want to restart the economy desperately … but the best way to do it is to be careful,” de Blasio said.

Cuomo said the state could consider lifting restrictions first for businesses that pose a lesser risk of infection and are considered more “essential.”

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Villeneuve and Hill reported from Albany, N.Y.

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