New Yorkers don masks in coronavirus fight

Peter HUTCHISON
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Face masks are becoming more and more prevalent in New York, the epicenter of the US coronavirus outbreak

From masks and scarves to bandanas and snoods, New Yorkers at the epicenter of America's coronavirus crisis are increasingly covering their faces -- setting the tone as the US government urges the rest of its citizens to do the same.

Donald Trump's administration has recommended people wear masks as research showed the virus could be spread by normal breathing, though the president made a point of saying the guideline was "voluntary" and that he for one chose not to do so.

Most Big Apple residents, however, are heeding Mayor Bill de Blasio's call -- made a day earlier than Trump's -- for them to shield their mouths when outside and near others.

"At first, people thought I was strange, but now everyone has come to my side," said 50-year-old Kristan Kish, who has been wearing a surgical cloth mask since the epidemic exploded in the city in early March.

She believes it "makes sense" to wear one in an urban jungle.

"By default, you don't know who's walking by you and the sidewalks in New York are narrow," Kish told AFP outside a Manhattan subway station.

After Gwyneth Paltrow posted a photo on Instagram of herself wearing a mask with a breathing valve, 60-year-old photographer Jade Albert rushed to order the same one online.

"As soon as I saw it, I wanted it!" she said, while walking her dog on the Upper West Side, adding she believes it is socially responsible to wear one.

"We have to all do as much as we can," Albert told AFP.

- 'Mixed messages' -

As of Friday evening, the United States had a total of more than 270,000 declared COVID-19 cases and over 7,400 fatalities, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

New York is Ground Zero in the US's war against the deadly outbreak.

The city of 8.6 million inhabitants has recorded some 57,000 confirmed cases, including 1,867 deaths.

Late Thursday, de Blasio urged all New Yorkers to cover their faces to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

But not all are convinced.

City dweller Adam Alvaro said he was unlikely to follow the guidance because of "mixed messages."

"They say 'Wear a mask' one day, 'Don't wear a mask' (the next). The message keeps changing," he told AFP.

Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator at the White House, said it is important for people to understand that masks do not replace social distancing or hand-washing.

Eddie Marrero, a 58-year-old handyman, is confused by the "contradictory" advice but says he feels safer wearing a mask.

"I am trying to protect me and my family. If everybody protects themselves, it's better for all of us," he told AFP.