Over several days this summer, The New York Times tallied the face-covering status of over 7,000 people at 14 spots across the city.
By now, everyone knows the drill: Wear a mask. It saves lives.
And yet, not everyone does — especially men.
In New York City, those ignoring the mask rule are nearly twice as likely to be men as women, The New York Times found in a mask census of over 7,000 people, conducted across the city at 13 street corners and one beach boardwalk.
The mask rule Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo handed down on April 15 leaves some room for interpretation. It requires that those over age 2 who can medically tolerate covering their mouths and noses do so “when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance,” which is understood as six feet from other people.
But if you walk by someone and happen to pass within four feet for a split second, does that count as being “unable to maintain” social distance? Who knows. At the corners where we did our counts, sometimes people were closer than six feet apart. Sometimes they weren’t.
But in almost every place, more men than women were walking around unmasked — usually a lot more: At some corners, the gender gap approached 25 percentage points.
Men were also considerably more likely than women to be wearing their masks in a kinda-sorta way — nostrils peeking over, mask under chin, mask dangling from one ear strap.
Setting aside these partial mask-wearers, and those holding masks in hand — all of whom arguably deserve some credit if they mask up fully when approaching a crowd — the numbers boiled down to this: Nearly one in three men were walking around unmasked, while only about one in six women were.
Damir Otovcevic, 53, an out-of-work waiter sitting on a bench in Astoria, Queens, with his mask around his chin, was surprised to hear it, but he was quick to offer a possible reason.
“Probably they have to be macho. They don’t want women to see them cover their faces,” he said. “Like how they show the muscles — the same thing.”
The Times’s enumerators — aided by Melody S. Goodman, a biostatistician and associate dean at New York University’s School of Global Public Health (see the methodology box at end of this article) — found that mask-wearing varied widely by neighborhood.
The street corners with the highest prevalence of mask-wearing were in Flushing, Queens, and Park Slope, Brooklyn, where over 95 percent of people were masked.
The lowest were scattered around Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens, all in the low-to-mid 60s. On a sultry evening on the boardwalk in Rockaway Beach, only 20 percent of passers-by were enjoying the fresh salt air through a mask.
Across the country, masks have become a flashpoint — a badge that liberals and conservatives wear (or don’t wear) on their faces — with some Republican leaders refusing to impose mask rules. But even in a blue city like New York, there are mask resisters.
During the survey, conducted over a stretch of stiflingly muggy days at the end of July when extracting oxygen from the air felt like an effort even with mouth and nose unimpeded, we asked dozens of unmasked people, men and women alike, why they weren’t masked and got dozens of answers. Some were more solid than others.
It’s too hot. It’s hard to breathe. I wear one all day at work. The straps dig into my ears. No one is near me right now. I don’t have the coronavirus. The danger of infection has passed.
“I get allergies, it itches my nose and sometimes when my body gets super hot, my nose bleeds,” said Frances Hampton, 36, a social worker walking in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Antoine Rogers, 35, a basketball referee, walking barefaced through Far Rockaway, Queens, dismissed reports of the virus as government propaganda.
“If you’re telling me I can’t breathe God’s air, this country is bent over!” he said.
Here are the results of our survey, neighborhood by neighborhood. The figures exclude those who were partially masked:
Main Street and Sanford Avenue
99 percent wearing masks
Women: 100 percent
Men: 98 percent
People in Flushing do not mess around.
In over an hour in the blistering noonday sun on a packed sidewalk not far from the Flushing-Main Street subway stop, The Times saw only six entirely unmasked people out of almost 500 pedestrians, and only one unmasked woman.
And unlike all the rest of the locations, which had substantial numbers of partially masked people, only 4 percent of people in Flushing were partially masked.
Dr. Goodman, the biostatistician, said that in some immigrant-heavy neighborhoods, the culture of the home country seemed to affect mask-wearing rates. The ZIP code of this location is more than 70 percent Asian-American, mostly Chinese.
“Culturally in America, at least in my lifetime, I’ve never been asked to wear a mask before, but people in other countries may have,” she said. “Anecdotally, I saw a lot of Asian people wearing masks before we were mandated to.”
National Street near Roosevelt Avenue
86 percent wearing masks
Women: 85 percent
Men: 88 percent
At the start of the virus crisis in New York City, Corona and surrounding neighborhoods emerged as the epicenter. Mexican and Ecuadorean workers, often living in crowded housing, were among the hardest-hit groups. The 11368 ZIP code in Corona has had the most cases in the entire city, and more than 4 percent of residents have tested positive.
On July 30, a bustling block off Roosevelt Avenue, lined with vendors selling everything from quesadillas to homemade yogurt to leather sandals, was a sea of masks, mostly the disposable blue ones. Even little children wore them, including several who also wore baggy, adult-size surgical gloves.
“It’s the No. 1 best way to protect myself — and protect other people, too, of course,” said Ana Vicente, who was out for a fruit juice with her 4-year-old daughter.
Broadway and Steinway Street
86 percent wearing masks
Women: 90 percent
Men: 81 percent
Rifat Milky was dismayed to see the news stories last month showing Broadway and Steinway Street in Astoria thronged with maskless revelers partying outside bars on weekends.
“That’s where if you’re not wearing a mask, you’re in trouble, said Mr. Milky, 24, a pharmacy intern.
Still, on a sweltering morning, there was Mr. Milky walking past the same corner, unmasked.
“I just came from physical therapy. When you do that, you’re covered up,” Mr. Milky explained as he put a mask on. “I’m taking a little break.”
Pitkin Avenue and Chester Street
67 percent wearing masks
Women: 75 percent
Men: 54 percent
Kesha Collado does not worry about the virus.
“It’s like a bad cold — if your immune system is strong enough, you can survive,” she said. “It’s a lot of old people that die, not a lot of young people, you know.”
As she stood on a shaded sidewalk near Bargain Land Discount Center and foot traffic filed by steadily, she was not wearing a mask. She said she seldom wore one.