New York City to fine people who refuse to wear mask as COVID-19 positive rate rises

(Adds details about case rise in some neighborhoods, quotes, background)

NEW YORK, Sept 29 (Reuters) - New York City will impose fines on people who refuse to wear a face covering as the rate of positive tests for the novel coronavirus climbed above 3% for the first time in months, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.

Officials will first offer free masks to those caught not wearing one. If the person refuses, they will face an unspecified fine, de Blasio told reporters.

“Our goal, of course, is to give everyone a free face mask,” de Blasio said. “We don’t want to fine people, but if we have to we will.”

The new rule extends across the city a similar policy imposed earlier this month by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, controlled by New York state governor Andrew Cuomo, in which commuters who refuse to wear a mask on public transit face a $50 fine.

The citywide daily positive test rate was 3.25%, which the mayor attributed in part to nine zip codes that city health officials say has seen a worrying uptick in cases, including several tight-knit Hasidic Jewish communities. The seven-day rolling COVID-19 positivity average was 1.38%.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Gabriella Borter Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot