New York makes face masks mandatory, but US guidance remains erratic

The United States seems to be shedding its initial reluctancy to impose or at least encourage the use of facemasks, following weeks of mixed signals from the Trump administration.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Credit Flickr

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has just ordered all people to wear a face-covering while in public, giving an initial three-day grace period. The state is moving towards “a new normal,” said Cuomo, as he eyes a gradual reopening of businesses.

“Where we’re going, it’s not reopening in that we’re going to reopen what was. We’re going to a different place,” Cuomo said. “If you are going to be in a situation, in public, where you come into contact with other people [and not] not socially distanced, you must have a mask or a cloth covering nose and mouth.”

As part of that phased reopening, people will now have to wear protective masks, Cuomo said, so far dismissing the use of fines. The order to use masks will be applied to people on public transit and in public spaces, including stores. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a mask — scarfs and bandanas will also be accepted, but some form of facial covering will be mandatory.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has also recently asked grocery stores to insist customers wear masks while shopping.

“I’m asking every store to put up a sign that you’re required to wear a face covering. This is another one of the things we have to do to protect each other,” he said at his daily press briefing.

A few days before New York’s decision, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its national coronavirus guidelines, now recommending wearing facemasks in public places “where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain […] especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

The CDC had only suggested medical workers use facemasks first but decided to change its guidelines based on “new evidence” that shows individuals can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms, meaning the virus can spread between those who are interacting close to each other.

In line with the CDC, President Trump also reversed previous guidance that suggested masks were unnecessary for people who weren’t sick and now is recommending to wear “non-medical cloth” face coverings. Nevertheless, the recommendations are only voluntary.

Despite his own government’s recommendations, Trump won’t likely be wearing a mask in the near future. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” he said, adding, “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don’t see it.”

Even the US Surgeon General first explicitly asked people to not wear masks, saying that this could actually increase the spread of coronavirus, and can now be seen sharing videos on his social media accounts on how to make a face mask out of old cloth and two rubber bands.

This is understandably creating confusion among the American citizens. But it’s not just the US. While Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong recommended widespread face masks right away, most health organizations gave completely opposite guidance and are now changing their mind.

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