A little over two months ago, Bedford + Bowery’s Zijia Song decided to wear a face mask in public, but grew too self-conscious to keep it up. “People saw my face mask not as a sign of precaution and regard for hygiene, but a sign of ‘Yellow Peril,’” she wrote. Needless to say, times have changed. On April 2, Mayor Bill de Blasio told all New Yorkers to cover their faces in public, acting on a study cited by the World Health Organization that found that asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers were transmitting the new coronavirus. New York hasn’t gone as far as Los Angeles, where it’s now a misdemeanor to visit essential businesses such as supermarkets without wearing a face covering, but the thinking about masks has clearly changed.
With more than 103,200 Covid-19 cases in New York City as of Sunday, are New Yorkers finally setting aside their notorious vanity— not to mention, mixed messages from the CDC and public officials– and masking up? On Friday afternoon, we positioned ourselves (inside of a hermetically sealed vehicle, naturally) at six busy intersections in B+B’s coverage area to count masks. Of the 700 people that passed by, 348 had their faces covered. Meaning, just about 50 percent. But some intersections showed more compliance than others.
In the Hasidic shopping district of South Williamsburg, at the intersection of Lee and Ross Streets, just 6 out of the 100 people counted wore some kind of face covering. Williamsburg has especially high rates of coronavirus infection (according to city data, 63.5 percent of tests in the 11221 zip code have been positive, versus 58.1 percent citywide), but with businesses like the Satmar Meat Market closed for Passover, few people were on the street and pedestrians may have assumed they had lower chances of infection. (A NYC Health FAQ about face coverings recommends them “whenever you need to leave home and might be closer than 6 feet from others.”) But the lack of compliance was also consistent with those in the neighborhood who’ve continued attending weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies in defiance of social distancing guidelines. Last week, in an opinion piece for the Times, a former member of the Hasidic Kiryas Joel community, in upstate New York, noted “a general mistrust of science and a solid distrust of secular authorities in Hasidic communities,” as well as restrictions on media which delay the transmission of news.
Of the intersections we monitored, the highest degrees of compliance were in Greenpoint and East Williamsburg. At the intersection of Calyer and Manhattan, adjacent the Associated supermarket, 63 percent of passersby wore masks. At Troutman and Wyckoff, masks were worn by the exact same number– 63 out of 100– of those exiting the L-train station, picking up pizza at Artichoke, and heading to Hana Natural market.
Compliance was also relatively high in North Williamsburg. Of 100 people counted at the intersection of Bedford Avenue and North 4th Street, 57 percent wore some kind of face covering. Separately, among the 46 people lined up to enter the adjacent Whole Foods, 83 percent were covered.
Here’s a look at results from each of the intersections we monitored on Friday. All results pertain to the first 100 people we saw.
Greenpoint – Calyer and Manhattan – 63 percent
East Williamsburg – Troutman and Wyckoff – 63 percent
North Williamsburg – Bedford Ave and N 4th St. – 57 percent
Bushwick – Myrtle and Knickerbocker – 53 percent
East Village/Lower East Side – Essex and Houston – 52 percent
South Williamsburg – Lee and Ross – 6 percent