NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio says New Yorkers will soon be able to find free face coverings in park and other public spaces.
The mayor reminded people to cover their mouths and noses in public, especially with a nice weekend ahead.
“We want to make it easy for people to have face coverings, so we’re going to start to give them out free in our city parks,” de Blasio said Thursday. “We know it’s going to get warm, we know people are going to go to the parks – again, want people to keep some real limits on that – but I want everyone to have a face covering.”
Starting this week, the city will distribute 100,000 face coverings to parks across the five boroughs.
“We’re going to focus on parks where we expect a lot of people to be,” said the mayor. “We’re going to focus on communities that have been the hardest hit by the disease.”
More than 1,000 city employees will also help patrol some public spaces, while handing out another 275,000 face coverings.
The mayor’s outreach is facing criticism even before its launch, however.
The online search engine that allows residents to find the nearest mask distribution location shows southern Brooklyn has been entirely forgotten.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who represents the area, is furious.
“We’ve been really hard hit not just with, you know, with COVID patients. We have a large number of seniors,” he told CBS2’s Christina Fan.
Gounardes says just as frustrating as a follow-up tweet by the mayor, seeming to indicate the city will distribute an additional batch of face coverings, but not specifying where.
We’ll have more than a thousand City employees out in parks and public spaces dedicated to keeping people safe and socially-distanced. They’ll distribute more face coverings as well.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 30, 2020
“It’s baffling to me that there was a plan put in place that was not well thought out, that writes off a million people in the city at least, and then the follow-up to that has been, just show up at a park and, you know, good luck,” Gounardes said.
To get a sense of how desperate people are for items like masks, you only have to look at the booming sales of street vendors, who instead of selling cell phone accessories are now carrying everything PPE.
On the Lower East Side, there’s even a vending machine now selling masks.
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the community is looking for this stuff and need it, and many of them are extremely happy that we have it,” one vendor said.
The city says it will try to continue securing more masks to distribute to residents, but local leaders say the mayor needs to address the inequality among boroughs first.
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Meanwhile, de Blasio said essential businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies, have the right to refuse customers who don’t cover their faces.
“No one goes into a grocery store, a supermarket or a pharmacy without a face covering on. If you try to, the people of the store have every right to send you right back the other way out,” he said. “We will back them up 100%. Really clear rules. Let’s all follow them.”
He also reiterated that N95 and surgical masks should be reserved for health care workers and first responders.
“Again, face coverings mean a scarf, a bandanna, anything you can make at home. Not a fancy, medical-grade mask,” he said.
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The mayor was pleased to report the coronavirus indicators continue to improve.
“Today we have a very good day. Not a perfect day, but a very good day,” he said. “I constantly see progress here because of everything you’re doing.”
The number of hospitalizations was down from 136 on April 27 to 129, the number of patients in the ICU decreased from 734 to 705 and the percentage of people testing positive dropped from 23% to 22% citywide. However, the percentage increased from 29% to 36% at public health labs.
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De Blasio said the city now has 11 community testing sites, including three in public housing facilities. Two more will open this weekend in Coney Island, Brooklyn and Inwood, Manhattan.
He expects to reach 30 community sites and 43,000 tests per week by May 18.
The city is also producing 125,000 surgical gowns each week and partnering with a company in Vietnam to make millions more.