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‘Dial up your empathy’: Officials urge mask wearing to slow the coronavirus

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds a face mask while talking to the media at the New York Stock Exchange in March.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
(Associated Press)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo became the latest state official to more aggressively promote mask usage to slow the spread of the coronavirus Thursday, announcing he will sign an executive order allowing private businesses to deny entry to patrons who decline to wear a face covering.

Cuomo has sought to make masks “cool” and on Thursday brought in actors Chris Rock and Rosie Perez to his news briefing to encourage New York residents to wear face coverings and get tested for the coronavirus.

Rock said he regularly watches Cuomo’s briefings and has come to see how differently the states are approaching the coronavirus outbreak.

“I thought I lived in the United States. I thought I lived in a country,” he said. “And now I realize that we have 50 countries, essentially. Right now we’re in the country of New York.”

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Rock added that he gives “a nice side-eye” to people he sees walking around Brooklyn without a mask.

Cuomo’s latest executive order gives more power to business owners.

“That store owner has a right to protect themselves. That store owner has a right to protect the other patrons in that store,” Cuomo said. “You don’t want to wear a mask? Fine. But you don’t have a right to then go into that store if that store owner doesn’t want you to.”

Cuomo said 74 COVID-19 deaths had been reported on Wednesday, about the same as the last two days. More than 29,500 people have died of the disease in the state as of Thursday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide with more than 101,100 deaths, according to the university.

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The significant increase in the city’s coronavirus mandates is necessary to help slow the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Eric Garcetti says.

The New York order follows similar moves by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who ordered most residents to wear face coverings in public spaces last month, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who announced Tuesday that all residents 10 or older must wear a face covering in indoor public spaces, starting Friday. Northam’s order makes exceptions for people who are eating, exercising or can’t for health reasons.

“I’m taking this step because science increasingly shows us that the virus spreads less easily when everyone is wearing face coverings,” Northam said.

He made the announcement after apologizing for his own recent failure to wear a mask while stopping to take photos during a visit to Virginia Beach over Memorial Day weekend.

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“People held me accountable, and I appreciate that,” he said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio mandated masks in the city last month. In mid-May, he announced that police would no longer enforce the mask policy after videos surfaced of police aggressively confronting people not wearing face coverings.

Mask policies have led to confrontations between businesses and customers across the country. In Texas, a bar owner has blocked patrons wearing masks, arguing that masks would make it difficult to check IDs and ensure people aren’t overly intoxicated. In Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Wolf required masks in stores starting last month, six customers who said they couldn’t wear masks due to health issues sued the Giant Eagle supermarket for denying them entry.

Even in states that haven’t mandated masks, elected officials have encouraged people to wear them to protect their neighbors. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has said that although he isn’t requiring people to wear masks, he hoped residents would skip the ideological battle seen in other states, calling it a “senseless dividing line.”

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“I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding,” he said during an emotional May 22 news briefing. “If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they have a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have COVID and are fighting.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine early this month rescinded an order requiring customers to wear face masks in stores after protests. Workers are still required to wear face coverings, however, and DeWine has continued to encourage them as a sign of “loving your fellow human being,” as he told CNN on Tuesday.

“You are not wearing it so much for yourself as you are wearing it for that person that you will come in contact with,” he said.

President Trump — who has declined to wear masks in nearly any setting despite his administration’s guidelines encouraging face coverings — appeared to mock former Vice President Joe Biden this week after Biden wore one during a Memorial Day appearance.

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Trump later criticized a White House reporter who wore a mask while asking him about the jab at Biden. The president said he couldn’t hear the reporter with the mask on and asked him to remove it. When the reporter said he would speak louder instead, the president replied, “Oh, OK, because you want to be politically correct.”

Biden has since updated his Facebook and Twitter avatars to an image of himself wearing a black mask and encouraged others to follow the guidelines.

On Wednesday night, the president tweeted a photo of Biden wearing the mask, commenting, “He looks better!” Trump on Thursday promoted an article from the Federalist, a conservative website, that said mandatory mask policies “provide a valuable foundation to weaponize the virus against American liberty.”

Trump tweeted: “So many different viewpoints!”

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) broke from the president Wednesday and voiced his support for wearing masks. “There’s no stigma attached to wearing a mask,” he said, according to Politico. “There’s no stigma attached to staying six feet apart.”

As states seek to encourage people to wear masks, they’re also cracking down on businesses that have reopened without permission.

De Blasio said nine businesses in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood were forced to shut down in the last 48 hours after reopening illegally, and that businesses that open in defiance of lockdown orders could face $1,000-per-day fines.

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“I’m not into free agents,” De Blasio said during a Wednesday news briefing. “I’m not into people deciding that they get to make the rules and they can do something everyone else can’t do.”

In Michigan, an appeals court ruled against a barber who reopened his shop in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home order. Karl Manke said he learned of the decision while serving a customer and that he didn’t plan on complying.

“If they want to put me in jail, put me in jail,” he said Thursday. “I will be governed — fair governing — but not ruled.”

In other parts of the country, state leaders are rapidly expanding the kinds of nonessential businesses set to open. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott revised an executive order on professional sports Thursday, and will now allow teams to hold outdoor competitions with spectators next month, as long as stadiums don’t exceed 25% capacity.

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp further eased restrictions in his state on Thursday, announcing that bars and nightclubs can begin reopening and summer schools can take place on campuses starting June 1 if they meet certain social distancing and sanitation rules. Amusement and water parks, carnivals and circuses will be allowed to open June 12 if they meet several requirements.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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