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Health experts concerned about 'mask fatigue' as Island prepares for Phase 2

Patrons are required to wear masks when entering businesses in New York. But will they keep it up? Credit: Johnny Milano

Before stepping into Charlotte’s, an ice cream parlor in Farmingdale, Brian Schwartz made sure to put on his face mask.

“A lot of us are blessed to have no health issues,” said Schwartz, after he exited Thursday with frozen tasty treats for himself and his two teenage sons. “I don’t know if these masks help, but I know it’s not that big of an inconvenience to me to protect somebody else.”

Health experts say face coverings are key to helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. But they worry the warm weather, along with months of quarantine, is giving some people “mask fatigue” — and that they will stop wearing them.

“Undoubtedly, that will happen to some people, so we need to get most people not to do that,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital.

Glatt said it’s important for people to realize they don’t have to wear masks when they are outdoors and 6 feet from others, or in their homes.

“If we let them know when it’s OK to not wear a mask, that will contribute to them putting it on when it’s appropriate,” Glatt said.

People also should follow guidelines for social distancing and hand-washing to stay safe, he said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that outdoor dining will be permitted in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan. Long Island is set to enter Phase 2 on Wednesday.

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Making sure customers wear masks is one more challenge for business owners who have struggled to stay afloat in recent months. Now that restrictions imposed by the state during the pandemic are starting to loosen, they soon will be able to host outdoor seating and allow customers inside as long as they wear masks and practice social distancing.

“Everybody’s been very cool with the masks,” said Nick DeVito, who owns Charlotte’s with his brother John. “We have a sign-up in the window that says you are required to wear a mask, and so far we’ve not had a problem with anybody.”

The bright, cheery ice cream parlor sits atop a 1920s speakeasy, carefully renovated by the DeVitos several years ago. They are reconfiguring the lounge, which features a mirrored bar and tin ceilings, to allow for social distancing as well as the spacious outside patio area.

“We can only have about 25% capacity,” he said. “But we are still going to have a band. We might have the band outside.”

Aurora Pichardo, owner of Dominican Restaurant 4 in Farmingdale, said her customers have been asking when they can stay and enjoy her specialties — such as rice and beans and roast pork — instead of ordering takeout.

“Maybe in one more week,” Pichardo said, adding she will make sure all of them are wearing masks.

“I will give them free masks,” she said.

Like most of the small businesses along Main Street in Farmingdale, Daniel Romano of Frankie’s East-Side Gourmet Restaurant has seen a steep decline in customers since the start of the pandemic in March.

But he has remained open, and even has continued the practice of offering a free slice of pizza to any hungry person he sees rummaging through the trash outside his restaurant.

He said customers will be required to wear masks if they want to come inside.

“Whatever the rules are, that’s what we are going to follow,” he said.

Romano said he has noticed more people walking around the neighborhood without masks in recent days.

“We will have [a mask] for them if they don’t have one,” he said. “I’ve lost two friends to COVID-19. I know it’s real.”

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