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New York essential workers must wear masks starting Wednesday night

A postal worker wears a protective mask and

A postal worker wears a protective mask and gloves while operating a route in Queens last month.  Credit: AP / John Minchillo

Workers at grocery stores and other essential businesses across the state must wear masks — and their employers must provide them — starting Wednesday night, as part of state-mandated efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order mandating “face coverings” for essential workers in direct contact with the public was made Sunday and goes into effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Retailers Lidl, Stop & Shop, Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, King Kullen, Whole Foods and Walmart said they already have been or will be in compliance with the mandate by the deadline. 

Still, retail trade groups say there was not enough lead time for businesses across the state to become compliant since there is a shortage of masks and there are too many unknowns about the order.

“It’s not an opposition. Everybody needs to be safe. It’s a matter of can it logistically work, given what’s out there currently available and how do we divide it among all essential businesses,” said Mike Durant, president and chief executive of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State Inc., an Albany-based trade group that represents 800 supermarkets, convenience stores and wholesalers.

On Tuesday afternoon, the New York State Department of Health issued guidance that included specifying what types of masks were acceptable under Cuomo’s order.

“Face coverings include, but are not limited to, cloth (e.g. homemade sewn, quick cut, bandanna), surgical masks, N-95 respirators, and face shields. … Employees are allowed to use their own face coverings, but shall not be mandated to do so by their employer,” according to the guidance.

Employers unable to obtain or create face coverings should consult their local offices of emergency management to see if extra supplies exist, the guidance said.

“Not being able to source face coverings does not relieve an employer’s obligation to provide such face coverings to their employees,” the guidance said.

Even though cloth masks are acceptable, some businesses will have a hard time finding enough, Durant said. Furthermore, no guidance was provided on cleaning the masks, he said.

Several retailers said they’ve already been providing personal protective equipment to their employees on Long Island.

“Each of our employees are supplied with face masks and gloves and are required to wear each daily all hours they are working. We have been providing these supplies for about three weeks now,” said Jillian Gundy, spokeswoman for Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, a Farmingdale-based specialty grocer with eight stores, six of which are on Long Island.

Stop & Shop has provided KN95 masks, gloves and face shields to its employees, said Jennifer Brogan, spokeswoman for the Quincy, Massachusetts-based grocery chain of more than 400 East Coast stores, including 51 on Long Island.

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