New York officials on Thursday announced increased enforcement against commuters who refuse to wear a mask, while critics argued that the monetary fine penalizes essential workers and ramps up policing of minority communities.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will issue $50 fines on subways and buses for riders who do not follow the mask mandate in effect since April, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order. The effort comes as people have peeled back their coverings, or not worn them at all, risking the spread of the airborne coronavirus.

Compliance with the face covering rule is at 90 percent, MTA President Patrick Foye said during the briefing with Cuomo, but the union representing transit workers calculated that about 60 percent of riders earlier this summer wore masks. Foye said the agency has distributed more than 4 million masks to travelers.

“Achieving universal mask compliance is our goal,” Foye said.

A fine is “misguided,” said Danny Pearlstein of the transportation advocacy group Riders Alliance, since it provokes interactions with law enforcement and subway riders to address the risk of spread via mass transit — which is already low.

“It’s important to think about who is riding the trains right now,” Pearlstein said in an interview. “With most offices closed, and most white-collar workers at home, it’s largely essential workers, low-income people, it’s many transit-dependent people who, in New York, are predominantly coming from communities of color.”

Pearlstein also criticized the hypocrisy of police enforcing the mandate after NYPD officers were widely criticized for flouting mask rules during the George Floyd protests.

“It’s especially problematic to ask them to enforce a rule that, while widely accepted, there appears to be a police exception for in practice,” Pearlstein said.

The Washington Post

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