New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called people who don’t wear masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus “cruel and irresponsible,” adding that he supports authorities fining them over it.

Wearing masks in public has been mandatory in New York since mid-April, but enforcement of the measure falls to local governments – and is something Cuomo wants to see happening.

“Do I think local government should be enforcing it? And should there be sanctions? Yes, because it is a public health emergency,” Cuomo said at a press conference on Monday when asked about fining citizens for being in public without masks.

“You could literally kill someone because you didn’t want to wear a mask. How cruel and irresponsible.”

NY Governor Cuomo: “It’s disrespectful of people not to wear masks…”“I think there should be a penalty because you could literally kill someone.”

Some people who have not been wearing masks in public, however, may be going without not because they don’t want to don the protective garb, but because the items have been particularly hard to come by. 

Masks, along with other protective items like hand sanitizer, quickly sold out in the early days of the pandemic and are only now beginning to come back into stock at online retailers, as well as in brick-and-mortar stores. Added to this is the fact that many are out of work and may simply be unable to afford a mask. 

US government officials have only recently changed their tune on face masks. Until early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) advised citizens against wearing them, and even New York itself prohibited state employees from wearing them at the time unless absolutely “necessary” for their job. 

The best way to protect yourself and your community is with everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness. Get your #FluShot- fewer flu patients = more resources for#COVID19

However, in the space of a month, officials have gone from warning against wearing face masks to shaming those who don’t with the threat that they could “literally kill someone.”

Health officials have warned that masks must be fitted and worn properly to be effective, and the face coverings can also create unexpected dangers if used excessively. Police in New Jersey have said they suspect a single-occupant car crash last month was caused when the driver passed out after wearing an N95 mask for hours and suffering from either a lack of oxygen or inhaling too much carbon dioxide. 

Though face coverings are not required while driving, they are required to be worn in public in New Jersey. 

The enforcement of Covid-19 mandates in New York has been controversial in recent days, with footage going viral of police officers arresting multiple people for apparently violating social distancing rules. One suspect was struck several times by an officer who was himself not wearing a face mask.

New York has recorded over 316,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with a death toll across the state of over 19,400. Reported deaths from Sunday remained below 300 for the fourth day in a row. Hospitalization rates have also continued to improve, as Cuomo announced 9,647 total hospitalizations, down from 9,786.

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