Wear a mask? Even with 20,000 dead, some New Yorkers don't

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this Monday, May 11, 2020 photo, a jogger wearing a face masks runs in between a biker and a pedestrian not wearing masks as they make their way over the Williamsburg bridge in New York.New York's governor has ordered masks for anyone out in public who can't stay at least six feet away from other people. Yet, while the rule is clear, New Yorkers have adopted their own interpretation of exactly when masks are required, especially outdoors. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK – Eric Leventhal felt a sneeze coming and panicked.

The Brooklynite left his cloth face mask at home for a morning run in a park last week. Walking home, he turned toward an empty street and let the sneeze out, hoping no one would notice.

Too bad for him, there’s no hiding without a mask in virus-stricken New York City.

“I picked my head up and I caught eyes with a woman who was wearing a mask, an older woman,” Leventhal recalled recently. “She was just kind of shaking her head.”

Leventhal, 36, is caught in the middle of a debate over when and where, exactly, it is necessary to wear a mask in a city where COVID-19 has now claimed more than 20,000 lives.

Since April 17, everyone in New York state has been required to wear a face covering in any place where they can't stay at least 6 feet from people who don't live with them. Only children younger than 2 and people with a medical excuse are exempt.

Similar rules are in place in New Jersey and Connecticut, and were recently put in place in Massachusetts. The British government told people to start covering their mouth and nose in shops, buses and subway trains just this week.

Yet, while the rule is clear, New Yorkers have adopted their own interpretation of when masks are required.