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'No Mask – No Entry,' Cuomo Says As He Allows Businesses To Insist On Face Coverings

New York businesses can refuse entrance to anyone who doesn't wear a face mask, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday under his executive order that gives store owners the authority to decide whether patrons must wear a mask or other face coverings to enter.

Face masks are "amazingly" effective in slowing the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the governor said.

"People have a right to jeopardize their own health (I don't recommend it)," Cuomo said via Twitter. "People don't have a right to jeopardize other people's health."

Summing the order up in another tweet, he said, "No Mask – No Entry."

New York, which has suffered the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been requiring people to wear face masks in public since the middle of April. The order covers any situation in which people wouldn't be able to maintain social distance, such as walking on a busy street or going to a grocery store or pharmacy.

The state is in the reopening stage, and Cuomo said store owners have the right to protect themselves and other patrons.

"You don't want to wear a mask — fine," he said at a news conference Thursday. "But you don't have a right to then go into that store if that store owner doesn't want you to."

New York continues to see promising statistics about its fight against COVID-19. The number of new daily hospitalizations due to the disease dropped to 163 — "the lowest that it's been," Cuomo said. The number of lives lost has also declined over the past week, with 74 deaths reported Wednesday.

The state has delivered 8 million face masks to neighborhoods in New York City and was delivering another 1 million Thursday, the governor said.

As Cuomo prepared to sign an executive order allowing businesses to require face masks, New York lawmakers were working to undo a long-running state law that made it illegal for people to wear masks when they gather in public or loiter. That law, which has been in effect since the 1800s, was originally meant to target farmers who wore masks and attacked police to express their anger over low wheat prices.

The potential legal conflict was highlighted last month by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who noted that while it was difficult to imagine the old law being vigorously applied during the pandemic, a change would lay the matter to rest once and for all.

"Wearing masks in public remains necessary for the health and safety of New Yorkers. But there was a clear conflict of law, and repealing this outdated provision is commonsense policy," James said as the State Assembly approved the legislation repealing the law.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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