ALBANY - New York businesses are now authorized to bar entry to their premises to individuals who are not wearing masks or other facial coverings, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
Citing the continued spread of the coronavirus, Cuomo said he is using his executive powers to clarify that store owners are under no legal obligation to admit customers without masks.
"I think this will reduce conflicts," Cuomo said in referring to several videos of tense confrontations in stores between pro-mask shoppers and those who insisted they are under no obligation to cover mouths and noses.
Cuomo announced the new executive order in Brooklyn, where he was joined by comedian Chris Rock and actress Rosie Perez. Both reared in Brooklyn, the two celebrities agreed to assist the state in public awareness campaigns aimed at convincing people that masks will help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
An advocacy group, the Lawsuit Reform Alliance, offered a mixed assessment of Cuomo's order.
The organization's director, Tom Stebbins, said he was pleased the state is now empowering businesses to exclude mask-less customers, but it could create thorny situations that underscore the need for comprehensive liability protections.
"When a customer refuses to wear a mask, how can businesses safely remove that customers from the premises?" Stebbins asked.
Businesses could also be exposed to legal claims if an employee tries to remove a "recalcitrant customer" and later becomes infected.
"Businesses need more than the right to refuse, they need statutory protections," Stebbins said.
According to the latest state data, a total of 23,722 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19, including 74 additional deaths since Wednesday.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com