Since the coronavirus pandemic first crashed down upon the state of New York and turned every hospital in the area into a disaster zone, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily livestreamed press conferences on the subject of COVID-19 relief have been reliable sources of comfort or amusement for everybody who’s stuck at home and craving some semblance of leadership. On Wednesday, Cuomo truly tapped into the dramatics of our current moment and unveiled “a self-portrait of America:” a gigantic collage of what appears to be hundreds of handmade medical masks mailed to New York from sympathetic citizens all over the country. “You know what it spells? It spells love,” Cuomo declared.
The image of a face shielded by a protective mask has quickly become one of the defining symbols of the coronavirus crisis: already, people all over the world have been expressing their creativity and solidarity by placing masks on public statues and stone monuments. However, these artistic displays have also unfolded in tandem with a global shortage of personal protective equipment that’s forced medical professionals on the front lines of the pandemic to reuse gowns and masks. Nurses at Mount Sinai West hospital in Manhattan have even been going about their rounds while wearing plastic trash bags, and earlier in April, the New York State Nurses Association sent a letter requesting the urgent distribution of any PPE potentially being stockpiled by the state.
For those reasons, the initial responses to Cuomo’s debut of the mask collage have been decidedly mixed. While some were touched by the tribute, others had questions. “I feel like this is well intentioned but I would be kind of pissed if I sent a mask to try to be useful and it ended up here rather than on the face of an essential worker,” behavioral economist Jodi Beggs tweeted. Indeed, one wonders why Cuomo decided to turn the donated masks into a gigantic art project instead of immediately disinfecting and then distributing them to anyone in the area who might need one.
Observer has reached out to the Governor’s press office for a comment on what will happen to the homemade masks, and we will update this story in the event of a response.