Long Islanders need to comply with social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 infections, but they shouldn’t be punished for not wearing masks, a panelist in a Newsday webinar said Tuesday.

The webinar was on the findings of a nextLI poll conducted June 22 to July 1 of 1,043 residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties on COVID-19. The nextLI project is a Newsday initiative funded by a grant from the Rauch Foundation, with a goal of stimulating Islandwide discussion of public policy questions.

In response to the question, “Do you currently wear a mask in public?” 97% of respondents said they did.

Kai Teoh, a nextLI data journalist, said that number may not line up with what Long Islanders see when they are in public.

“Some people may not be masking up when they’re exercising or when they’re out walking their dogs, but they may mask up when they’re indoors or they’re shopping and they’re required to,” he said.

The webinar featured questions from Newsday readers. One asked about governments enforcing mask rules, moderator Coralie Saint-Louis said. An April executive order signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo requires wearing masks in public if social distancing isn’t possible, with fines possible for those who don’t comply.

John Schneidawin, director of business development and communications at the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning, said that “we have to have as much empathy as possible toward people” in difficult times and not be overly harsh by, for example, fining people for not wearing masks.

Featured speaker Kristen Harmeling, vice president of YouGov.

Featured speaker Kristen Harmeling, vice president of YouGov. Credit: Julia Gerace

But he said wearing masks, social distancing and regular hand-washing are crucial to preventing a second wave of infections — and preventing new infections helps the economy recover.

Forty-three percent of Long Islanders surveyed said a second wave in the fall is highly or very likely.

Another reader said too many young adults don't take precautions and called them “selfish.” 

Teoh said the survey found no significant difference in the concern adults 18 to 39, and those 60 and older, have about the virus. A similar percentage said they worried that they or family or friends might contract the virus and get seriously ill or die.

Kristen Harmeling, a senior vice president for market research at YouGov, the London-based research and public-opinion group that conducted the survey for nextLI, said today’s young people, like generations before them, put a high priority on their social lives.

“I don’t interpret it as them not taking things seriously,” she said. “But they want to be young."

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