State lawmakers have repealed a nearly 200-year-old law that outlaws wearing a mask in public as New York officials seek to encourge mask wearing to prevent the spread of coronavrius. 

The measure repeals the law that subjects a mask wearer to up to 15 days in jail. 


What You Need To Know

  • For nearly two centuries mask wearing was illegal in New York.

  • A new law repeals that as mask wearing is encouraged.

  • Businesses can now bar people from entry if they don't wear a mask.

  • New Yorkers are being encouraged to wear a mask when social distancing isn't possible.


The change in the law comes as New Yorkers are being asked to wear masks in public when six feet of social distancing is not possible. Cuomo on Thursday approved an executive order allowing businesses to bar people from entering if they are not wearing a mask. 

“We are living through an unprecedented health crisis," said Sen. Jamaal Bailey, a Democrat who represents Mount Vernon and the Bronx. "Governor Cuomo issued an executive order requiring that New Yorkers wear face masks while in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but this mandate conflicts with an outdated penal law provision banning the use of such masks."

The measure's passage was applauded by Attorney General Letitia James who had initially pointed out the inconsistency in the law after the initial mask order went into effect. 

“Wearing masks in public remains necessary for the health and safety of New Yorkers. But there was a clear conflict of law, and repealing this outdated provision is commonsense policy,” James said. “Even if it is difficult to imagine a police department enforcing, a prosecutor charging, or a judge upholding such a charge during the COVID-19 crisis, we should not tolerate a situation where following the law is dangerous. I thank Senator Bailey and Assemblymember Quart for their leadership and for permanently repealing this law.”