Leadership in Saratoga, Fulton and Montgomery counties said they won’t enforce the governor’s mandate for people to wear face masks in all public indoor buildings.
“I don’t think local health departments, including Fulton’s, has any of the resources necessary to be an enforcement agency for this type of a mandate on private businesses and so forth,” Jon Stead, Fulton County’s administrative officer and clerk of the Board of Supervisors, said by phone Monday.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has required New Yorkers to wear face masks in public indoor places until at least Jan. 15.
Businesses or venues that have implemented a vaccine requirement are exempted from the new rule.
The requirement, set in place as statewide COVID-19 rates climb, aims to address the winter surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide, the governor said.
It also aligns with the federal Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations for communities with substantial and high transmission.
Violators could be fined up to $1,000, Hochul said
A previous face mask mandate had been lifted in June by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Saratoga County’s Supervisor Theodore Kusnierz Jr. said in a statement that neither the county Public Health Department nor law enforcement would impose the state’s “misguided and unrealistic mask mandate, which passes the buck to counties to enforce what the Governor herself said just over a week ago is ‘almost impossible’ to enforce.”
Kusnierz said that under no circumstances will the county enforce the “harmful provision” that bars schoolchildren from taking breaks from wearing masks.
“Saratoga county will not reallocate valuable, limited public health resources from providing much-needed vaccines and boosters to the community,” the supervisor said. “Nor will we reallocate important public safety resources that continue to keep Saratoga county one of the safest counties in the state. This mandate attempts to divert these county employees and resources from their intended missions while pitting our community members against each other by encouraging people and businesses to report perceived mask violations to law enforcement and the local health department.
“Our public health team is a dedicated group of healthcare professionals whose job is to educate the public on how they can best protect themselves from communicable diseases and viruses, such as COVID-19. Local Health Departments are not policing agencies,” Kusnierz said.
He added that the best way to protect the health and safety of Saratoga County residents, families, schools and businesses is to continue to focus public health resources on rapidly providing booster vaccinations to the public, which the public health team continues to do.
“Asking already thin-stretched local health departments to enforce mask or vaccination mandates only detracts from this critical endeavor,” he said. “Governor Hochul would know this, had she consulted with county leaders, but, just as her predecessor, she did not.”
Clifton Park Town Supervisor Philip Barrett agreed, asserting that Hochul’s call for local health departments to enforce the mandate was unrealistic.
“The county has completed 120 vaccination clinics and counting in the last several months,” Barrett said. “We have a third booster vaccination clinic in Clifton Park on Dec. 20. Public Health personnel are working each day on not only vaccination clinics, but testing, tracing and a myriad of other responsibilities. Directing them to stop these core tasks to conduct enforcement actions per the mask mandates is not sound policy or ultimately an effective course of action.”
In Clifton Park, a Facebook post indicated a group that opposed the governor’s mandate had planned to enter a grocery store Monday night without face masks.
Stead noted Fulton County didn’t receive written guidance from the state until late Friday.
“We’re actually still evaluating what in fact that means and how enforceable it really is,” he said.
“The governor and state officials probably are trying to do something to improve the path and trajectory of COVID,” Stead said. “But this was probably the wrong step. Our understanding is this was issued as what’s called a Department of Health determination, not an executive order. There are many people raising questions about whether it’s just a guidance and an advisory or whether it really carries the weight of the law. That’s another issue out there that everybody’s trying to figure out.”
In Montgomery County, Public Health Director Sara Boerenko said she does not support the mask mandate.
“I have worked, my staff has worked, county employees have worked, but most importantly, you as residents of Montgomery County have worked really hard for us to fall back into a senseless mandate for masks at this point,” she said.
Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman said he’s glad Hochul included a vaccination component to her mandate.
“It’s good, sound, smart public health policy for the community,” he said, noting Schenectady County’s primary focus is booster vaccination. He added the county conducted vaccinations in 16 schools during an 11-day span after five- to 11-year-olds became eligible.
“I don’t know how much community tolerance there is for mandating,” Fluman said. “When the first mandates came out, there was that action by public health departments — instructed by the state — to go out and check people for violations.”
“We did do some of those activities, but it really was educate first, potentially violate down the road, if needed,” Fluman said. “But even when it was more acute nine months ago, we really only financially penalized one or two different people.”
Ashley Onyon contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.