Some New Yorkers Are Not Ready to Pull Down Their Masks

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll look at reaction to Mayor Eric Adams’s call for stores and delis not to let customers in unless they lower their masks. We’ll also look at the latest plan to expand Black and Asian American studies in the city’s schools.

To thwart robberies, Mayor Eric Adams is urging shopkeepers and bodega owners to turn away customers who refuse to lower their masks when they walk in. Dropping their masks would let security cameras get clear images of their faces, the mayor said on Monday, in case they were there not to buy something, but to rob.

Godfrey Johnson was wearing a blue surgical mask as he walked along East 59th Street on Tuesday morning — and promised to keep it on if he went into a store. “I’m not comfortable with all the assurances we are given about the elimination or minimization of Covid-19,” said Johnson, a transit worker headed to Queens.

Still, Johnson said, he sympathized with bodega workers. Concerns about robberies and shoplifting rose after the fatal shooting of a 67-year-old employee at a deli on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on Friday. The gunman was a robber wearing a dark face mask and a body suit made of the synthetic material Tyvek. “What the mayor says is good in theory,” Johnson said, “but in practice could lead to confrontation between workers and potential shoppers.”

The balance between what to do when something that provides one kind of protection — a mask, to guard against Covid-19 — might undermine personal safety came up in conversations with mask-wearers and deli workers on Tuesday. So did questions about whether crime would go down and infections would go up.

In the mostly maskless morning crowd along Third Avenue near Bloomingdale’s, Aaron Jacob, on his way to work at the American Jewish Committee, where he is the director of diplomatic affairs, said he was thinking about going to Costco later in the day and would wear his N95 mask there. He had just come out of the subway.

“My wife contracted two months ago,” he said, referring to Covid-19, “and I decided it’s not worth the risk” to go without a mask, although he said he mostly wears one in the subway.

Down the block, Maria Chaleas was wearing two blue surgical masks along with a black cap and black-frame sunglasses. “I have a sick child, so I cannot take risks,” she said. As for pulling off masks on the way into stores, she said, “You shouldn’t. It’s too early.” Covid-19 “is still around,” she said.

Adams had said on Monday that people who refuse to pull down their masks when they go into a store should be barred. “We need to stop allowing them to exploit the safety of the pandemic by wearing masks, committing crimes,” he said on WPIX-TV. “Once you’re inside the store, you can put the mask on” again. He added in a separate appearance on WINS radio that store employees would know to keep an eye on shoppers who did not comply because “if someone is violating the basic rules, they may be there to violate a substantial rule as to commit a crime.”

The mayor’s call to take the masks off, if only for a moment or two on the way into a store or a deli, came at a time when crime in New York appears to be declining. In the first two months of the year, crime rates have gone down in most categories, according to data from the Police Department. Overall, crime in February dropped 5.6 percent compared with February 2022, which the department said contributed to a reduction of 0.4 percent for 2023 from 2022.

Still, some deli workers applauded the mayor for saying a mask should come off to go into a store. “People are hiding behind it,” said Abdul Moz at Health Choice, on Madison Avenue at East 117th Street. He said the store had not been robbed — “so far” — but he believed that New York had passed the point in the pandemic where masks were necessary for health reasons.

If dropping a mask makes it easier for surveillance cameras get a full-face view of customers as they walk in, the cameras are ready at the Ocean Deli, on Lexington Avenue at East 121st Street. Sultan Mohammad, who works there, said there are “like 12,” so many that a Google review said “they must have had a lot of thefts.”

They have not, Mohammad said. But he said that wearing a mask would give would-be thieves “a green light to do whatever they want to do.”

“It’s not just about regular masks,” he said. “They come in a ninja mask. That would cover their whole face.” And that would be different from a customer with an N95 mask, or even a plain cloth one.

“It’s not as much risk with coronavirus as there used to be, you know,” he said. “Three years ago, it was a brand-new virus. Nobody knew anything about it. now it feels almost normal, with all the vaccines everybody got.”


Expect a sunny day, with temperatures near the mid-40s. The evening is partly cloudy with temps dropping to the low 30s.


In effect until April 6 (Passover).

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Expanding Black and Asian American studies in schools

In the last two years, more than 40 states have introduced bills or passed laws to limit how race and racism are taught. Last month Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida blocked a new Advanced Placement class in African American studies.

But my colleague Troy Closson writes that there is a movement to expand teaching about race, discrimination and sexuality in some left-leaning places, marking a widening divide in what American students learn about the nation’s history and culture. Now New York City is finishing plans to expand Black and Asian American studies in schools next year, though the plan is less ambitious than one announced in 2021, and school officials said that teachers would be encouraged but not required to follow it in their classes.

Mayor Eric Adams’s administration dropped the 2021 effort, saying that a systemwide curriculum overhaul was impractical with 1,500 schools. In a city where more than four in five children are Latino, Black or Asian, many students and families have pushed to see themselves reflected in what they learn.

Some are demanding even more. Dozens of teenagers at a recent protest outside the Department of Education headquarters in Lower Manhattan called for more intensive Black history instruction.

“I feel like I’ve been stuck learning about Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. over and over again,” Isabella Juma, 16, a sophomore in Queens who attended the protest, said. “You end up thinking that’s where your history started and ended, which is not true because Black Americans are making history every single day. We need to accurately represent that.”


Stars over Central Park

Dear Diary:

The dead are the dirt
that heave up green
notes in the hot dusk
to break the glass
of this islet
riverine sliver
in granite and light
it splits the Hudson flow

into brackish eternities
as we divide the divine
into imagined blood rites
and blank sky painted
by starlings — lying
in the lawn that patches
this cinder ball
backs to a tumid star

our eyes listen to hear
curtained constellations tell
old tales in the pallid night
but our scrambled senses drown
in echoes of that ancient
cosmic shriek — now
the stale staccato sky
holds mostly light of inbounds

to Newark — yet
science webs thoughts
they telescope
to the imagined edge
where murmured skies
were once a glittering
coal bed and tin moons
rose and fell on rocks roots

and strange wings
what if a young Whitman
once lay on this very grass
and cried — my,
how crickets then sung
the milky night
to unseen windows
beyond unseen stars

— G.R. Kramer

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Hannah Fidelman and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected]

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