Gov. Hochul, Mayor Adams consider cracking down on masks on NYC subways

NEW YORK — Gov. Kathy Hochul is considering at least a partial ban on masks on New York City subways, and appears to have the support of Mayor Eric Adams.

At a Thursday news conference in Albany, the governor said she and Adams had discussed what a proactive mask crackdown might look like after images and videos of unrecognizable anti-Israel protesters on a subway car raised worries that some facial coverings may serve a different purpose than they did at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s also concern about common criminals concealing their identities.

We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior,” Hochul said Thursday. “My team is working on a solution, but on a subway, people should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes.”

On WABC radio, Mayor Adams said he supports Hochul’s call for rethinking masks in public spaces and returning the city to its pre-COVID norms.

“I think now is the time to go back to the way it was,” Adams said.

He specifically mentioned “cowards” at protests who wear masks “to do something disgraceful.”

An anti-loitering law banning masks in public spaces was put on the books in 1845, according to Gothamist. Compromises to that legislation were enacted more than a century later to curb the spread of COVID-19 in 2020. The city moved to make masks optional in September 2022.

Hochul doesn’t seem intent on banning masks altogether, noting facial wear for religious purposes, holiday celebrations and health reasons might merit exemptions. The CDC also warns that COVID-19 hasn’t gone away.

“I assure everyone, we understand how complex this issue is,” Hochul said.