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14 things you might not know about the face-covering requirement in New York

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo made it a requirement to wear a mask or face covering in public when it's not possible to distance yourself from others, like when you're on a bus or at a busy intersection.

The mandate goes into effect on Friday, April 17, at 8pm.

There are a lot of uncertainties as we add this new accessory to our wardrobe during this crazy time, so we've set out to answer some of the questions you may have.

Why is this only now becoming a requirement? 

Until now, wearing a cloth mask in public has just been a recommendation by the CDC and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who advised people to wear face coverings last week. And if you've been outside at all, you've seen that many people are still not wearing masks.

On Wednesday, however, Governor Cuomo exercised his power to require people wear masks so that the spread is slowed.

By having everyone wear a mask, it keeps asymptomatic people (those without symptoms) from spreading it to others through speaking, coughing or sneezing, according to the CDC.

Do I have to wear a mask when I exercise?

Yes. Any time you are around other people, you must be wearing a face covering. However, if you're running, walking or biking in a deserted area, it should be safe to do so without a covering on. Here's more on what to know when you exercise and run outdoors right now.

What about when I go grocery shopping?

Most definitely. The governor's mandate covers any time you're unable to keep your distance from others, and, if you've done any grocery runs in NYC, you know it's nearly impossible to stay away from other shoppers.

De Blasio recently suggested that supermarkets post signs requiring customers to wear face coverings, too.

Who shouldn't wear face masks?

Children younger than 2 years of age or anyone who has trouble breathing or are unable to remove the cover without help should not be wearing a face covering.

How should my face mask fit?

It should cover your mouth and nose, fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and be secured with ties or ear loops. The covering should allow for breathing without restriction, and it should be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or changing its shape.

How often do I have to change my mask? How do I wash it?

Since the CDC recommends using a cloth mask as opposed to one like the medical grade N95, you shouldn't need to change your mask. However, washing it at least once a week is important. Throw it in a washing machine using the hottest water cycle. If you've come into contact with someone who seems to be symptomatic, wash it immediately. Note: Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth when removing your face covering, and wash your hands immediately after removing it.

Are there other things I can cover my face with besides a mask?

Yes! You don't need an official face mask—a bandana or any kind of cloth face covering fashioned from a household item or made at home from common materials can be used. It's best if the covering has multiple layers of fabric.

Can I ever not wear my mask outside?

You don't need to wear a covering if there is no one nearby you, but, that being said, be aware of your surroundings. You may not be the only one around.

What happens if I get caught not wearing a mask? Will I be fined?

You could be fined, according to the New York Post. On Tuesday, the NYPD told cops to issue C-summonses to businesses and individuals who don't obey the ruling.

C-summonses typically include a fine of $25 to $75, but Cuomo recently increased the fine for people who don't properly social distance themselves from $500 to $1,000. So it could be more. 

So, where can I get a mask?

Most local pharmacies are sold out of masks, but you may want to check some retailers that aren't usually associated with health items, including Office Depot, Home Depot, Staples, Lowe's and Ace Hardware, according to

You can find bandanas at a lot of online shops, from REI to Michael's. 

If you're looking for something a little more fashionable, check out masks by local artists. FlirtyGirlWeddings has fun patterns, from hearts to cherries, and Gotham Quilts has masks with the city's skyline on it. Also, check out designer Clarissa Hurst's and Danica Pantic's Instagram pages. They've been taking orders for their funkier designs.

The founders of Tilit, a New York-based top designer of chef aprons, has pivoted to making face masks, which are $18 online and include one mask donation to a food service worker or medical professional in need.

Just keep in mind that your mask needs to have multiple layers of fabric and that you'll need to wash it.

How do I make a mask?

If you don't want to buy a mask or can't find one, you can make your own.

Many sites have posted simple sewing and no-sew patterns you can use, including the CDC. You can make it as simple or ornate as you'd like. JoAnn's has a pretty easy-to-follow guide.

If I want to donate masks, how can I?

You can drop them off at any NYPD precinct, transit district and Housing Bureau public service area command for the city's disaster relief donation drive. You can fill out a donation form on the state's Department of Health website or check out

You can find an exhaustive list of groups in need at

How do I discard my mask when I'm done using it?

Throw it in the trash can. Period. Don't be a litterbug and throw it on the ground. 

Last week, Mayor de Blasio had to address the littering that's been happening.

"It’s actually dangerous. It actually could put other people in harm’s way," he said during his daily briefing. "Look, we don’t like littering to begin with, but we especially don’t like littering when there might be a deadly virus on these gloves or masks. I’m not trying to be alarmist, it’s just common sense."

How long will all this last for?

Cuomo announced on Thursday that New York's shutdown would continue for another month until May 15. It's likely we'll be wearing masks at least until then and more likely for much longer. At least, until the number of cases substantially go down. There's no way to know for sure how long this will go on, but there is a plan forming to reopen the state.

Governors from seven East Coast states formed a coalition on Monday, led by Cuomo, to develop a joint reopening plan based on testing, infections and other key data points, according to Reuters. There will surely be more to come on that front. 

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