The city is now asking all grocery stores to require customers to wear face coverings — new guidance in hopes of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 as reports of crowds continue. The development follows a report that hundreds of NYPD officers are now being diverted to maintain social distancing norms across the city, and supermarkets and parks have been identified among the hotspots, according to the New York Times.
Update: Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order Wednesday afternoon requiring all New Yorkers to wear a mask or some type of mouth or nose covering in public where social distancing is not possible.
“It is really critical that our essential grocery store workers are protected,” Kathryn Garcia, the city’s newly appointed “food czar” and head of the city’s sanitation department said at a press conference this morning. “We will really support grocery stores who require their customers to wear a face covering.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio clarified at the press conference that the coverings do not have to be health masks, which are intended for front line workers in healthcare and other industries such as grocery staffers. Bandanas, scarves, and other face coverings available for sale would work.
Supermarkets should be posting signs on their doors requesting face coverings and are allowed to ban customers who aren’t wearing one. And any business having trouble with customers can call their local New York Police Department precinct or 311, the mayor added.
“We have to be clear, this is another one of the things we have to do to protect each other,” he said.
Many grocery stores and restaurants across the city have already been requesting that customers not enter unless they wear a face covering. And already, NYPD has been enforcing social distancing at grocery stores. On a recent patrol, officers had to manage crowds at both the Trader Joe’s locations along 14th Streets — one next to Union Square, and the other closer to Avenue A — according to the Times.
While grocery store staffers are trying to enforce the six feet rule as New Yorkers line up outside the store, the police presence is reportedly ensuring that New Yorkers continue to follow the social distancing guidelines. When cops showed up at the 14th Street Trader Joe’s locations, people started moving further apart in the lines, according to the Times.
Some New Yorkers are also taking it upon themselves to ensure social distancing norms are maintained. A resident across from the Court Street Trader Joe’s has created a Twitter account to let locals know of wait times to get into the store.
But as New Yorkers continue to visit grocery stores at unprecedented rates, Garcia also looked to reassure people this morning saying that the food supply chain was still strong. The city has invested $50 million toward bolstering the chain and will be purchasing 18 million shelf-stable meals — food that can last for a while — in the coming weeks.
This post has been updated to reflect new information