Capital Region — A bus stopped at the corner of State Street and Veeder Avenue in Schenectady on Tuesday and disgorged a group of passengers.
Half of them weren’t wearing masks.
Neither were most of the half-dozen people hunkered down at the bus stop a block away, and at any given time, you can expect at least some of the people in the queue waiting to get into the SEFCU across the street aren’t wearing them, either.
Anecdotal, to be sure.
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo is peeved.
“I do not understand why people think it’s such a burden to wear a mask,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “Maybe there is a better way to communicate it than I have been able to communicate it.”
Cuomo lashed out against anti-maskers the previous day, calling them “disrespectful” to front-line workers.
“Show some basic modicum of respect,” said a visibly upset Cuomo.
To drive home the importance of reducing the coronavirus’ spread, especially now that the state is working on a regional reopening strategy, the state launched a competition on Tuesday asking New Yorkers to submit videos explaining why people should mask-up.
Cuomo tapped his daughter, Mariah Kennedy-Cuomo, as an “informal adviser” to the effort.
People can submit their videos to [email protected] Videos should be less than 30 seconds long and show a mask properly worn over the mouth and nose.
The state will select five clips, post them online and ask people to vote for their favorite, which will be aired on TV as a public service announcement (PSA).
The deadline for submissions is May 30.
Coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets and the CDC has recommended Americans wear “cloth face coverings” in public since April 3.
Masks are primarily to “help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others,” according to the CDC, and not necessarily to prevent the wearer from being infected.
All facial coverings should rest snug against the nose and mouth; leaving either exposed violates CDC guidelines.
The state’s directive requires people to wear facial coverings where social distancing isn’t possible.
Cuomo said it’s up to each locality to enforce the order.
“I think there should be a penalty,” he said. “You could literally kill someone.”
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city has no immediate plans to enforce the directive and was instead prioritizing educational outreach.
“We’re not quite ready to do that at this point, and we continue to monitor it,” McCarthy said on Monday.
Schenectady County has distributed roughly half of its 55,000-mask cache, as well as 3,000 surgical masks.
Each cloth face covering comes with instructions and the county has posted CDC guidelines on social media.
When it comes to enforcement, county officials are continuing to look at the governor’s guidance and are “communicating with the surrounding counties to take a regional approach to address these issues,” said Erin Roberts, a Schenectady County spokesperson.
And while numerous businesses have signs informing patrons to wear masks, enforcement is up to each business.
“We don’t have a legal remedy with which to deny entry, but have erected signage to encourage compliance with the governor’s executive order and designated social distancing ‘captains’ to educate all who enter our stores about the importance of wearing masks,” said Mona Golub, vice president of public relations and community affairs at Price Chopper/Market 32.
Stewarts Shops also requires patrons to don masks upon entry.
“While our partners give friendly reminders for those customers that come into the store without a mask, it is ultimately the customer’s responsibility to comply with the order,” said Erica Komoroske, a spokesperson. “We are all in this together and need to take protective measures to keep one another safe.”
The state launched the PSA campaign a day after it rolled out a strategy for reopening.
New York will be locked down until at least May 15. But based on a formula tracking the number of new infections, hospital and testing capacity and contract tracing ability, different parts of the state may be open earlier than others.
“You monitor the data, you monitor the transmission rate, you monitor the hospitalization rate, you monitor the death rate,” Cuomo said. “If it goes up, you have a circuit breaker, you stop.”
The governor pointed at a model by the University of Washington that predicts more than 134,000 people will die from the virus by August — double previous estimates — as a result of loosened social distancing rules now being considered by 31 states.
“The faster we open, the higher the human cost,” Cuomo said. “How much is a human life worth? That’s the discussion that no one is admitting openly and freely, but we should.”
Despite temperatures taking a dip this week, local officials are also mindful that upcoming warmer weather will see stir-crazy people flocking outdoors.
McCarthy acknowledged receiving several reports of large gatherings last weekend, when temperatures reached into the 70s.
“If you see those situations, feel free to call the police,” McCarthy told the Schenectady City Council. “We’ll try to send [city police] out and initially engage in an educational process.”
Schenectady police, who are facing up to a 25 percent reduction in their uniformed ranks under McCarthy’s proposal to close yawning budget deficits, didn’t respond for comment.