‘You could literally kill someone’: Masks become a new COVID-19 battleground

Times Square
A man in a mask checks his phone in New York’s Times Square in March 2020.
(AFP/Getty Images)

In the bustling college town of Stillwater, Okla., residents are allowed to visit restaurants and retailers — freedoms that most of the country does not currently enjoy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet when the city issued an emergency proclamation Friday that required citizens to wear face coverings, store employees were “threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse,” according to a statement released by the city. In response, Stillwater quickly amended its wording to only “encourage” use of masks.

“This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings help contain the spread of COVID-19,” Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said in a statement. “Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view.”


About a dozen states have reopened more of their economies since Friday’s calendar turn to May, with several, including Florida, loosening more restrictions Monday. No matter where a state falls on the reopening spectrum, though, all Americans who choose to go outside are being met with a choice that isn’t going away anytime soon: to cover up or not?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public” to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The federal agency notes that masks are to protect others and that they are not a substitute for social distancing.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine backtracked last week on an order to require masks be worn in stores as too many Ohioans found it “offensive.”

“It became clear to me that was just a bridge too far. People were not going to accept the government telling them what to do,” DeWine said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

The governor said bookstores, florists and others can reopen for pickup as early as Friday. More detailed guidelines will be released later this week.

May 4, 2020

On Monday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, as part of a tour acknowledging the reopening of most of the state, visited a thrift store in Joplin that is operated by the Disabled American Veterans. The veteran workers wore masks, but Parson did not.

“I chose not to,” Parson said, when asked at his news briefing why he did not cover his face.

“I think it’s up to the individuals. I don’t think that’s government’s role to mandate who wears a mask and who don’t. I go back to what I’ve said all along: It’s your personal responsibility.”

A food server wearing a mask waits on customers at the Parkshore Grill in St. Petersburg, Fla., on May 4, 2020.
A food server wearing a mask waits on customers at the Parkshore Grill in St. Petersburg, Fla., on May 4, 2020.
(Associated Press )

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed the reopening of most restaurants, retailers, museums and libraries at 25% capacity Monday. DeSantis — who controversially referred to his state, with its large population of older residents, as “God’s waiting room” last week — is recommending that employees and customers wear masks, but he is not requiring it.

DeSantis’ phased opening plan kept populous South Florida counties Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach closed for most business.

Miami reopened parks to the public last week, but only with the mandatory use of masks. By the end of the weekend, park rangers had handed out more than 7,000 warnings to people not wearing face covers, most of them in the popular South Pointe Park, police said. On Monday, the city closed up the park at the end of South Beach yet again.

New Jersey opened its parks Saturday, and although Gov. Phil Murphy was pleased overall with the social distancing compliance shown by the population, he shared one major complaint Monday.

“Not enough masks,” he said. Eighty percent to 90% “of the folks were not wearing masks.”

A cleaning crew member disinfects a New York City subway train on May 4, 2020.
A cleaning crew member disinfects a New York City subway train on May 4, 2020.
(Getty Images)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a mandatory mask order April 15 and said Monday that he believes local governments should have the right to enforce it.

“Because you could literally kill someone,” Cuomo said. “How cruel and irresponsible would that be? … It’s not that big of a deal. You don’t wear a mask to protect yourself. You wear a mask to protect me. And I wear a mask to protect you.

“No one said wear a mask all the time. If you go for a walk in the woods, you don’t have to wear a mask. You can have the mask down when walking in the woods, but if you see someone coming the other way, you put the mask on. It’s the least we can do.”

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 68,600 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than a third of American losses from the disease were in the state of New York, which has become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more than 24,900 deaths as of Monday afternoon. The global death total has surpassed 250,000.

Coronavirus could kill 100,000, Trump says, weeks after predicting lower toll

May 3, 2020

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio began his Monday morning news briefing by talking about how nice the weather had been in the city over the weekend — and how that could lead to a false sense of normality. New York City on Monday reported 13,536 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 and 5,373 deaths in which the cause was listed as the disease but the victim was not tested.

De Blasio said he did not have a problem with citizens returning to outside spaces and enjoying the weather as long as they wore a mask and kept social distancing requirements. He announced Monday that the city would be distributing 5 million three-ply nonmedical masks and 2.5 million cloth face coverings for free in the coming weeks.

“Wherever you turn, you’re going to be offered a face covering,” De Blasio said.

De Blasio and New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea were peppered with questions stemming from a video of an officer pointing a Taser at bystanders in lower Manhattan during an arrest of people accused of not social distancing properly. The video shows the officer punching and slapping a man as he brings him to the ground.

“This one incident is troubling, but there’s been tens of thousands of interactions between police officer and civilians that went very well,” De Blasio said. The officer has been placed on modified duty and the incident is being investigated, De Blasio said Sunday.

On Monday he said more face covers could help prevent future violent scenarios from playing out with enforcement, but in this case, the plainclothes officer was also not wearing a mask.

Supreme Court arguments are broadcast live for the first time in history, via a phone hook-up to allow justices to hear cases during the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders.

May 4, 2020

In Oklahoma, Stillwater City Manager McNickle said in a statement that one of the incidents involving the mask requirement included a threat with a firearm.

In Michigan, where Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered that masks be worn through May, state police investigators are looking into reports that a Flint dollar store security guard was fatally shot Friday after an argument with a customer who had refused to wear a mask in the store, according to the Detroit News.

The man who died leaves behind a wife and eight kids.

“My condolences go out to the family of the security guard,” Whitmer said Monday. “It is incredible that people continue to show up to work to protect everyone else. We are mindful of how important it is that people keep a level head, that we do the right things. I ask that all Michiganders keep their wits about them and take actions to protect themselves and others in this incredibly stressful time.”