Back in late May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order, authorizing business owners to refuse entry to any customer who didn’t wear a face mask. At the time, some New Yorkers criticized the move, suggesting their freedom to choose was more important than current public health and safety standards.

Fast forward to this past week, and what we now see is a near-complete reversal in New York’s standing as a COVID-19 “hot spot.”

These days, as evidenced by nearly 10,000 new positive cases in Florida this past Friday, New York is considered to have set the standard for maintaining control over the virus, which is now spiking in quicker-to-reopen states down south and out west.

New York remains the state with the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths overall, but day-to-day numbers have been falling steadily in recent weeks. In the state’s darkest days, COVID-19 was claiming 1,000 lives per day. Consider that on June 25th, New York’s daily death rate was 17.

Conversely, Florida, which has not imposed a full-on mask mandate, reopened at a swifter pace and is now dealing with a rapid increase in infections. Other states like Texas are now joining Florida in rolling back some of the freedoms they allowed, once again imposing limits on public gatherings at places like bars and beaches.

The mask mandate is not the sole reason for the decrease in infections and deaths in New York, but the move, along with regular and steady messaging about the need for residents to keep up social distancing, clearly made a difference.

As Cuomo said weeks ago, when he first imposed large-scale mask mandates, face coverings are “amazingly” effective in slowing the spread of the virus. His words were backed by medical professionals and scientific experts from across the country and around the globe.

While only a month ago such thinking was dismissed by some as a despot’s threat to their personal freedom, today, given a look at the rate of infections and hospitalizations here in the United States and in other parts of the world, we can say with great certainty that wearing masks and practicing social distancing are key to combating this devastating disease.

Having said all this, “amazingly,” some among us in New York are still denying the numbers, the recommendations and the opinions from those working in fields such as epidemiology. They continue to walk into public places without face covering, defiantly, even though most places now have signs alerting them to their need to wear one.

Similar signs like “no shirt, no service” or “no shoes, no service” have been hanging on storefronts for years and few, if any, complained.

We’re at a loss to explain why some have such issues with a similar standard for face covering amid a global pandemic.

It’s true, masks do not prevent transmission of the virus and, yes, wearing one does not guarantee you won’t catch it or spread it to someone else.

It is still one of the only ways in which the average person can reduce the likelihood of spreading a disease that has no cure or vaccine.

Wearing a mask is an action aimed at contributing to a larger cause, one that involves reducing the spread of the most highly contagious and potentially deadly disease in modern times.

Wearing a mask should not be viewed as the trashing of American values but rather as a sign of respect for others. It’s a symbol that you care enough about your friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers to cover your face in case you have something the person next to you might catch.

The alarming new numbers in Texas and Florida remind all of us what we should already know: This pandemic is far from over.

As any health expert will tell you, all of us must remain vigilant, as we all are responsible for helping to keep this vicious virus under control.

Wearing a mask is not a solution or a cure, it is simply part of the defense.

Failing to wear one in a place where they are required not only goes against public health standards, it is just plain foolish and rude.

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