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How I navigated the Big Apple’s new normal – withou...

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How I navigated the Big Apple’s new normal – without a wallet


Toby Shapshak is publisher of Stuff ( and Scrolla.Africa.

What would the world look like post-Covid? I saw the possibilities first-hand a few weeks ago when I went to New York for a product launch. As there are no mask mandates in place, the people wearing them looked like exceptions. It was like the normal we had before Covid-19 shut down the world’s economy.

New York has dropped its mask mandate, somewhat controversially, and you are no longer required to wear a mask on domestic flights. On the United flight over, several of the cabin crew didn’t wear masks.

I wondered if it was some kind of commentary, especially as the chief flight attendant insisted over the address system that passengers should wear masks for the duration of the flight. It was a call repeated on the flight home, but, again, I noticed some cabin crew just didn’t wear them.

Walking around New York, it was unimaginable that this was once a ghost town with empty streets.

It was seemingly random which stores required masks or which did not, and nobody was asked to put one on in any of the stores I went to. In some stores, some workers had masks and others didn’t.

A mask mandate ruling in April by Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Florida judge appointed by former US #Presidunce Donald Trump, set the stage for this relaxation, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set out new guidelines.

Eric Adams, New York’s new mayor, announced the city’s new strategy in February, including, just as controversially, not wearing masks in schools. Public transport and ride-hailing firms still insist on masks.

“The goal was to put in place ways to encourage people to get vaccinated,” Adams said at the time. “I believe we’ve accomplished that.” New York’s residents are 77% vaccinated, according to the city’s data.

Adam’s focus, much like any other city, is that “we want tourism back. It’s a major economic boost for us.”

I wondered if people’s choice was some kind of signifier of rational person versus anti-vaxxer or Trump supporter. It wasn’t clear if people were wearing masks for their own safety as much as everyone else’s.

When I got home, it wasn’t surprising to learn that New York’s Covid infection rate had soared, with the city on “high Covid alert” after recording 3,500 new daily cases.

South African scientists have, quite rightly, pointed out that you don’t need to wear a mask outside, but recommend them indoors.

I stuck to that logic, given how superior our scientists have been in identifying new strains of Covid-19 and that I completely trust their advice.

“Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” Mizelle, the Trump-appointed Federal judge in Florida, concluded in April. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitises’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitises’ the conveyance.”

Of her appointment, Rolling Stone noted: “Mizelle (35) was only eight years out of law school … when Trump appointed her to the lifetime position in 2020. The Daily Beast noted at the time that her only trial experience was as an intern, and that she held four clerkships.” She was rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association, which cited her lack of experience.

Because this is a technology column, and my editor will be asking herself where that is, I can faithfully report that New York has embraced technology much better since my last trip several years ago.

Having set up Apple Pay through both FNB and Discovery Bank, it was very easy to pay for things like the subway.

I generally use this tap-to-pay system instead of a physical credit card – and not because FNB gives you a free Starbucks cappuccino every week, but because I am truly keen to try life without a wallet.

Since Covid, we seldom carry cash any more and I only have a thin wallet for my driver’s licence. Many people slip their card ID into the inside back of their phone cover, or get a cover with a card holder. That’s not the solution I’m looking for. Tapping your smartphone also means you don’t have to touch a point-of-sale machine.

The Gautrain, thankfully, also offers such tap payments. Now, how do I get all the money off my gold Gautrain cards? DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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