New York City will impose fines on people who refuse to wear a face covering as the rate of positive tests for the novel coronavirus climbed above 3% for the first time in months, Mayor Bill De Blasio said on Tuesday.
Beyond New York, 28 other states were seeing upticks in new coronavirus infections over the past two weeks, and COVID-19 hospitalizations were on the rise in several Midwestern states.
New York City officials will first offer free masks to those caught not wearing one in public.
If the person refuses, they will face an unspecified fine, De Blasio told reporters.
“We don’t want to fine people, but if we have to, we will,” he said. City police and health department officials, among others, will enforce the fines, he said.
The fines will be up to $1,000 (R16 935,77) though “most” will not exceed $500 (R8 467,88) , Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for the mayor, wrote in an email.
He declined to say whether it would apply equally to city police officers, some of whom can be frequently seen without masks, despite admonishments by the mayor.
A similar policy was imposed earlier this month by the state-controlled Metropolitan Transportation Authority under which commuters who refuse to wear a mask on public transit face a $50 (R846,79) fine.
The citywide daily positive coronavirus test rate was 3.25%, according to provisional data, the first time it had exceeded 3% since June.
In April, when the city was the global epicenter of the pandemic, more than 5 000 people were testing positive each day compared with a few hundred now, even as testing is more widespread.
The mayor attributed the recent rise in part to nine area codes out of 146 that city health officials say have seen a worrying uptick in cases, including several tight-knit Hasidic Jewish communities.
He warned that some areas could be ordered to close businesses or schools if the numbers did not improve.
The seven-day rolling average for positive coronavirus tests was 1.38%.
De Blasio’s announcement came as many elementary school students returned to public schools for the first time on Tuesday, an effort to provide a mix of in-person and virtual learning that had twice been pushed back as teachers and principals raised concerns about the city’s pandemic preparedness.
The city has said it will shut schools again if the seven-day average reaches 3% or more.
Plans to allow restaurants to begin seating customers indoors at 25% capacity were still underway for Wednesday, De Blasio said.
In a news conference on Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raised the possibility of stopping indoor dining again or reimposing other economic restrictions.
“I don’t believe we’re at the point of rolling back anything,” he told reporters. “If the local governments do not do the compliance and attack the clusters, you will be there in the short-term future.”
Cuomo, who has repeatedly feuded with De Blasio over who has authority to impose or loosen containment measures, said he would meet this week with leaders of Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn as well as Nassau, Orange and Rockland counties, where infections have also ticked up.
Elsewhere, in the past seven days Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin reported record numbers of hospitalised COVID-19 patients.
On Monday, North Dakota reported 105 hospitalizations and Wisconsin 640.
After playing a National Football League game on Sunday, the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings suspended team activities after some members of the Titans tested positive for COVID-19, according to statements from the NFL and the teams.