With New York City reopening in full, COVID-19 cases at all time lows and the vaccine rollout going into overdrive, the debate regarding whether the MTA should still be mandating the use of face coverings on subways is heating up underground.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated individuals can remove their masks both indoors and outdoors in certain settings; however, individuals are still required to don the face piece when traveling on trains, buses, airplanes and other modes of public transportation. The CDC also said Friday it was safe for the fully vaccinated to not wear masks in outdoor train stations and other open-air transit venues.
Although signs and advertisements tell riders that it is still the law to wear masks in the subway, some customers are deciding to toss the veils anyway.
While the majority of straphangers continue to shield their mouths and noses with cloth, a number of travelers ride have opted to forego the face coverings.
Abdoul Mika, a photographer who travels from his home in the Bronx and throughout the metropolitan area says that he has noticed people going maskless, especially homeless individuals.
“I feel like there are two separate rules for folks that are homeless as opposed to folks who aren’t, in terms of wearing masks and not wearing, but I mean given their situation I can kind of understand,” Mika said.
It is not just the unhoused who are shedding the masks.
Treyvon King waited to board the 6 train at Astor Place with his bicycle by his side, sans the mask, believing that the mask mandate within the subway system should be only in place for those who have not been vaccinated.
“If you already got the shot, then I feel like you shouldn’t have to wear the mask. I feel like the mask isn’t necessary for vaccinated people,” King said.
Like some vaccinated subway users, Keyan Sanai holds his facial covering within his pocket while he is walking on the sidewalk, but once inside of the train station, he dons the layer protection. However, he does this out of respect to help ease the worries of other riders.
“I typically keep a mask on me, I think that as a society people are very selfish. So, I do wear it when I go on the subway, and I think the main reason for that is because I see elderly people, and even people who have been fed misinformation are very scared that they think they are going to get it. So out of respect for them, and the families they are going home to, I do still wear the mask on the subway — more for other people than myself,” Sanai said.
Sanai also shared that in addition to wearing a mask to appease others and their fears, he also thinks it helps to prevent confrontation.
“I headed onto the subway the other day and my mask was not covering my nose fully and some woman got upset over it,” Sanai told amNewYork Metro, “I think if other people are still scared or uncomfortable it’s no sweat off my back to put a mask on when I am riding the subway.”
While the general consensus of those riding the underground seem to be clinging to the mask for safety assurance, it is clear there is a steady rise in those who believe it is time to leave what they feel is a security blanket behind.
“It is time to ditch the masks,” one bare faced man said, entering the Union Square subway station. However, the MTA point out that some may simply forget to don a mask when transitioning from above to below ground.
According to MTA’s Chief of Safety and Security Patrick Warren, the MTA is focusing on reminding New Yorkers that it is still necessary to wear a mask while riding public transposition.
“We want to make sure that our customers know that while you are not required to wear a mask outside and many other locations, you are required to wear a mask in our transportation system and our latest survey still shows that 97% of our customers are wearing their masks, but I totally see the challenge as people get more used to not wearing their masks and forgetting,” Warren said, pointing out that booths still carry extra masks if an individual forgets to bring their own.
When it comes to enforcing the rule, Communications Director Tim Minton shared that since the MTA began fining riders for not abiding by the mask rule last September, only 38 summonses have been issued out of approximately 50,000 positive encounters, which see the vast majority of riders adjusting their masks or placing one on. Minton believes that demonstrates rider cooperation with the mandate.