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Not wearing a mask in New York – even on a jog – is akin to sporting a MAGA cap

It simply isn't worth the guilt-inducing frowns to go for a run in the park maskless

rosie hopegood
Rosie moved to New York from London last month and has noticed a stark difference in the attitude towards Covid-19 Credit: Rosie Hopegood

These days, going for a jog along a wide leafy path in Central Park involves huffing and puffing behind my face covering. Although wearing a mask to exercise isn't mandatory here, within days of arriving in New York, I soon realised that not wearing one is a political statement – I may as well go for a run wearing a MAGA cap. Even when running outside and more than 6ft from the nearest passerby, it simply isn't worth the guilt-inducing frowns from fellow New Yorkers to go bare-faced.      

I moved to the States a little over a month ago, after six years in London. In the UK, I was definitely on the more cautious end of the spectrum when it came to coronavirus. I was doggedly strict about following the rules, even when they seemed contradictory or didn’t make much sense. I haven’t hugged anyone but my partner since March and hand sanitizer has become my constant companion. I wore a mask in shops before it was required, and mostly avoided crowded places and public transport. 

Yet I was surprised when I landed in the Big Apple to find that over here, my efforts to stop the spread of the virus seem second-rate by local standards. Of course, New York City was hit exceptionally hard by COVID-19 during the Spring – to date, more than 24,000 people have died in the city and there have been a further 9,000 deaths statewide. It’s only natural that tensions are running high and restrictions are tough.      

Here, masks are mandatory for anyone over the age of 2, both indoors and outdoors. Gym classes are banned, unless they take place outdoors; spinning studios have adapted and dragged all their bikes outside. Although bars are open, you can’t order alcohol without a meal, and cinemas haven’t been open since March. Everything is closed by 10pm.   

The thing that most surprised me, however, was how far New Yorkers have gone above and beyond the statewide restrictions. Restaurants have been open for indoor dining at 25 per cent capacity since September 30, and yet most diners choose to sit outside. The streets have been partly given over to restaurants so that they can build outdoor dining areas, filled with plants and fairy lights. This is less twinkly and romantic than it sounds though, once you factor in New York’s garbage disposal issues (think dinner beside a 4ft tower of bin bags and passing rats the size of kittens). 

Restaurants in New York have been required to move seating outside Credit: getty

When meeting friends, it’s automatically assumed that we’ll be sitting outside, even with the recent drop in temperature. We wrap up in hats, puffa coats and gloves, and stubbornly eat outdoors. At supper this week, one friend joked that her cauliflower had almost frozen solid, while another said that she would definitely bring a hot water bottle next time. I was so cold by the time we paid the bill that I was genuinely concerned my feet wouldn’t work when I stood up again.

It’s a world away from my summer in the UK – even the concept of 'Eat Out to Help Out' seems laughable over here. Memories of that surreal window when it felt like nipping to Nando’s was an act of great patriotism are still fresh in my mind. It seems bizarre, looking back, that the government promoted eating out, returning to the office and heading off to university, only to plunge the country into another lockdown as cases soared. 

Of course, cases here are rising too, and with a maskless, pseudoscience-babbling president still in charge of the country, it’s an alarming time. But with populations of a similar size, New York has a rolling seven day average of 7,846 new cases, while the current London figure stands at 17,806.

In New York, it feels like we’re permanently in a state of semi-lockdown, a world away from that golden summer in the UK when freedom had all but returned. But seeing the differing attitudes in New York makes me cringe just how absurd that British summer was. I’d so much rather abide by this city’s stricter rules, than sacrifice more vulnerable people to the virus and face another national lockdown like the UK.