By Alex P. Vidal
“There is a face beneath this mask, but it isn’t me. I’m no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it, or the bones beneath that.” ― Steve Moore, V for Vendetta
THE first four people I met while walking in the street from the workplace on 1st Avenue in midtown Manhattan February 7 morning didn’t wear the mandated face masks.
The first one, a woman, who responded when I greeted her “good morning”, was walking her dog on the sidewalk near the Yemen Embassy. I thought she only forgot to wear her face mask.
When I crossed the street on my way to 2nd Avenue for a subway ride on 3rd Avenue, I spotted another maskless woman walking in my direction.
On my left side, meanwhile, I saw a female bike rider trying to beat the red light in the bike lane. She also didn’t have a mask on her face. Three in a row isn’t any more a coincidence, I told myself.
Finally, when I turned right from 51st Street going to 52nd Street, I saw another maskless person, this time a man, walking from 52nd Street toward 51st Street. Four in a row. This is unusual, I told myself anew.
I didn’t come out for three days, so I thought the mask mandate has been lifted starting that morning. Dream on.
But as I continued walking and crossing the street toward 3rd Avenue, all the pedestrians I met thereafter were now wearing face masks like me. Back to the real world.
Many New Yorkers actually have stopped wearing the face masks outdoor ever since reports came out that coronavirus cases in the week were down about 46 percent from the previous week’s tally of cases of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Next month kahit ang mga establishments and restaurants baka e lift na rin ang mask mandate,” said Camilo Galinea, a Pinoy working in a pub house on Fifth Avenue.
New York ranked 43rd among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
Nationally, coronavirus cases decreased about 15 percent from the week before, with 4,770,122 cases reported. With 5.84 percent of the country’s population, New York had 4.07 percent of the country’s cases in the last week.
New York’s rapid decline in new coronavirus cases unfolded as deadlines to end or extend various pandemic-related measures, such as the indoor mask mandate, were fast approaching in early February.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul wanted everyone to give her the mid-winter break before she decides whether to lift school mask mandates statewide.
The governor was expected to announce on February 9 that she will lift a separate mandate requiring businesses without vaccination requirements to compel workers, customers and visitors to wear face coverings in public spaces.
Hochul told a group of teachers, administrators and parents on February 8 that she wants to wait until after the upcoming school break the week of Feb. 21 before making a final call on the mask edict.
The school vacation period typically starts over Presidents Day weekend and kids return to class on Monday, Feb. 28.
It buys Hochul more time to mull a change, especially as the state Department of Health said on February 7 that the regulation granting her the ability to issue mask mandates in schools would likely be renewed on Feb. 21 – its anticipated expiration date.
She was under mounting pressure to lift the mandate, especially after neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut announced school masking mandates will end within the next several weeks.
The rule was initially slated to last over a 90-day period, but it’s unclear if Hochul would issue a renewal over the same period or for a shorter extension.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)