Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he's issuing an executive order to require every New Yorker to wear masks in public when it’s not possible to practice social distancing, beginning Friday.
Cuomo also said the virus claimed 752 lives Tuesday, but the rate of hospitalizations may have already peaked.
The governor said the order requires all New Yorkers to wear masks, scarves or bandannas that cover their nose and mouth when they're out in public and unable to practice social distancing.
“Put the mask on,” Cuomo said. “You’re right to go out for a walk in the park … fine, but don’t infect me. You don’t have a right to infect me.”
He said for now, there will be no civil penalties or fines for not wearing a mask, but he will consider doing so if people don’t comply.
Cuomo also delivered some good news about the coronavirus Wednesday, saying that the rate of hospitalizations may be on the decline, with 18,335 New Yorkers in the hospital on Tuesday.
But he said the death toll may be even higher, as the state will now be counting probable deaths from COVID-19.
New York City began using the new Centers for Disease Control guidelines to include in its count those who may have died from the virus but did not go to a hospital. That put the city’s death toll from the pandemic at over 10,000 people.
Cuomo says the state will now go back and recount to include those who likely died from the coronavirus but did not go to a hospital or were unable to get a test.
He said while he is eager to restart the economy, no one should expect that things will go back to the way they were before the pandemic. He said it will be a gradual reopening with many safety precautions.
The governor said criteria will include how essential the business is, and how at-risk the business is for spreading infection. He said companies can make adjustments to make their workplaces safer when they are allowed to reopen.
“Businesses can start to redesign their work places,” Cuomo said.
But Cuomo said even a phased reopening won’t be safe without more testing and contact tracing, but there are many testing obstacles, such as a lack of swabs and vials. He said test kits are made by private companies and involve an international supply chain.
The governor said only the federal government can bring testing “to scale” -- the states cannot do it on their own -- and he urged the Trump administration to act.
In the meantime, New York is seeking FDA approval for a finger prick antibody test that could test up to 100,000 people a day, which the governor said would be prioritized for health care workers.
Cuomo said nothing will be truly safe until there’s a vaccine, which is expected to take 12 to 18 months.