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LI workers find ways to cope with face mask mandates despite blistering temperatures

Alan Siris, president of Enterprise Asphalt Paving Inc.

Alan Siris, president of Enterprise Asphalt Paving Inc. based in East Setauket, spoke to Newsday on Thursday about what it is like working in the hot summer conditions, while wearing a face mask. Credit: Johnny Milano

Summer heat and humidity are putting Long Island workers in a sticky situation: How to adhere to face mask mandates as temperatures soar. 

The issue is confounding workers from roofers to pizza makers to telecommuters on a daily jog.   

Alan Siris, president of Enterprise Asphalt Paving Inc. based in East Setauket, said the unrelenting heat is compounded by the nature of his work.

"We're working with 300-degree asphalt," he said. "It's brutal."

Siris said that when the temperature goes over 90 degrees, he will postpone jobs until the weather moderates.

When they are on a job, workers will doff and don face masks depending on how close they are bunched, he said.

"When we're actually laying asphalt, my crew tries to stay as separate as they can," Siris said. "If they're 6 feet away, they don't have to wear the mask." 

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates physical distancing of at least 6 feet from people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor settings.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, recently cited two studies calling cloth face coverings "one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus." 

In July, even as Long Island baked under temperatures regularly eclipsing 90 degrees and the National Weather Service issued heat advisories, Siris said he needed no reminding to follow face mask protocols. Four of his seasonal workers contracted COVID-19 while New York's economy was shut down, he said. Two recovered in short order, one was on a ventilator for 23 days and the fourth died.

At Gregorio's Pizzeria & Trattoria in Massapequa, owner Gregory Cellucci said workers simply have to cope with mandates to keep face masks on despite blistering temperatures.

"Behind the counter, it's 120 degrees," he said. "But we also have to think of the safety of the staff and our customers."

Roofers also are prime targets of the summer heat.

"When the temperatures get up in the 90s with the humidity, it gets tough to work on a roof," said Tom Jannace, owner of Tom Jannace Roofing in Stony Brook. "With the heat wave, we've been laying low."

In any case, he said, since the pandemic, "work is way, way down."

Even Long Islanders who telecommute from their air-conditioned homes are not spared from the mask dilemma.

Akhter Hussain, a software engineer, takes a daily break to jog or walk with his son, Samiul Hussain Alam, around their Dix Hills neighborhood.

Hussain said they wear masks, but pull them down when no people are in sight.

"It's a burden, but I feel good when I wear it even though it's hot," he said, citing the elderly who may face graver consequences if they contract the virus.

"I don't want them to feel bad," he said. "They're my neighbors."

Dr. Hugh Cassiere, medical director for respiratory services at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, said that in a congested setting, if you're outside and another person is within 6 feet, a mask is required. "As long as you can stay 6 feet away, you're OK without a mask."

Cassiere also suggested those engaged in outdoor activities during the heat wear cotton face coverings or two-ply surgical masks for their combination of protection and light weight.

Where possible, he also suggested skirting the problem by scheduling outdoor work and chores in the early morning and evening.

Delivery services also can help minimize trips outside to beat the heat.

"We live in an environment where you can have anything delivered to your door with an app," he said.

Cassiere cautioned that those with respiratory problems have particular difficulty coping with the heat and face masks exacerbate the issue.

One Long Island manufacturer, prodded by retail staffers who have to wear face masks for a full shift, sought to come up with a cooler alternative.

Eugene Alletto, chief executive of Bedgear LLC, a Farmingdale maker of bedding and mattresses, said that it was natural for his company to apply its heat- and moisture-wicking fabrics to a face mask, launched in July.

He said the washable, lightweight mask includes an inner filtration layer and is structured to create an air pocket between the nose and chin for comfort.

"If there's one thing we can control, it's putting on our own face mask," he said.

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Tips on wearing face mask in hot weather

  • Wear a mask outside unless you are certain you will be separated from others by more than 6 feet
  • Consider a face mask made of cotton or a two-ply surgical mask
  • Avoid using lotions and makeup on the face to keep the face mask dry
  • If you can't keep your face mask dry, carry spares

Source: Dr. Hugh Cassiere, medical director for respiratory therapy services at North Shore University Hospital

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