Capital Region

Capital Region businesses deal with vaccine-or-mask mandate

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Along with the public health benefits it is expected to bring, the new vax-or-mask mandate that went into effect for New York businesses and venues Monday has succeeded in annoying some people and leaving others scrambling to comply.

It’s also largely going into effect without oversight locally: Six of the eight Capital Region counties have stated they won’t be enforcing the mandate, as did the two nearest Mohawk Valley counties.

Gov. Kathy Hochul last week ordered that starting Monday, businesses and venues would need to require that everyone age 2 and older wear a mask at all times inside or verify that everyone age 12 or older is fully vaccinated before entering.

She also said the state would rely on local officials to enforce the rules, which come amid a surge in COVID-19 in much of the state and will continue at least until Jan. 15.

Fulton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties have said they will not do so, and local media reports indicate the same response from Columbia and Greene counties.

The owners and operators of many public places had long since set policies on masking and vaccinating and had to make adjustments on three days’ notice after Hochul’s announcement Friday.

CHAMBER ADVICE

Organizations such as chambers of commerce provided what guidance they could.

After Hochul’s order, the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce offered its member merchants a downloadable window sign explaining that there is a mask mandate in place, and that the governor had imposed it. Hundreds of businesses downloaded it, chamber President Todd Shimkus said Wednesday.

“The Saratoga County Chamber’s role has been to share as much information as possible and to be a resource to every employer in Saratoga County throughout the pandemic,” he said. 

But there’s not a single detailed template for businesses to follow, Shimkus added, and if there were, it would have to change continually to keep up with the pandemic. Broad-stroke advice is sometimes more useful.

“I think I’ve always told businesses that they need to do what they think is right,” he said. 

Shimkus has advice for patrons, as well: “Because we can’t seem to all get on the same page as to what is right, what I tell individuals to do is to be kind and respectful. The businesses and employees are caught in the middle. Don’t take out your frustrations on them. They have very little control over the situation. Each of us has control over how we react. If you have nothing good to say, please say nothing at all.”

Here — censored but otherwise in its entirety — is a Wednesday post in a Saratoga County Facebook group: “To the [expletive] at Dunkin who said “You guys need masks it says on the door” — FU Karen.”

SUPPLYING STAFF

The situation is even more fluid for an operation such as Alaant Workforce Solutions, which must set policy for its own office staff, verify the policies at dozens of client employers and see that its temp employees and direct hires comply with those policies.

“Most of our clients were putting a vaccine mandate in place well before,” said Miriam Dushane, managing partner for Alaant in Albany. “We’re now in the habit of asking ‘What is your vaccine policy?'”

Alaant this week released its Fall 2021 Hiring Index, which played up a different aspect of COVID: Remote work.

For the first time in the pandemic, more than half of respondents said their workforce was fully back on-site. This makes a mask or vaccination policy critical to a degree it would not have been six months ago, Dushane said.

In the spring of 2021, many employers wouldn’t ask Alaant whether job candidates were vaccinated, she added, but now more are.

Sixty of Alaant’s nearly 100 temporary workers are assigned to a larger pharmaceutical firm that long since mandated vaccination, Dushane said. Two of those workers pushed back against the rule; one obtained an exemption and one relented and took the shot.

Among the client businesses Alaant works with, the issue seems to have drawn a lot of thought. Only one hadn’t already set a vaccination policy, Dushane said, and that one was working 100% remotely, so it hadn’t been an issue.

OTHER REACTIONS

Here, in no particular order of significance, is a sample of other reactions to Hochul’s mandate:

GUILDERLAND ELKS LODGE: “Members and guests will have to show proof that they are fully vaccinated to gain entrance to the lodge. … Please remember this is a New York State Policy, not an Elk policy. Please voice your displeasure with the politicians, not the bartenders or officers of our lodges.” The followup comment to the Facebook post: “This goes against everything the Elks stood for. How do we cancel our membership and get dues back? What a disgrace. What happened to America and our freedoms that the Elks strongly believed in?”

ALBANY CATHOLIC DIOCESE: “Since a vaccine verification requirement would be difficult, if not impossible, for churches to implement, we believe the mask mandate is the most efficient option for parishes of the Diocese of Albany to remain compliant.” Facebook comments included: “Just go to Mass mask free. The more that do this the better.” and “I can’t believe there are so many selfish Catholics. I wear a mask willingly to protect others and myself. Aren’t we the faith of sacrifice?” and “True love is freely CHOOSING to sacrifice for others. Not being forced into it.”

CLIFTON PARK: Town Supervisor Phil Barrett had a pragmatic response Wednesday, offering free masks to Clifton Park businesses and requesting civility from those businesses’ patrons: “I understand many people are not pleased the Governor has instituted a new mask mandate. Following the mask mandate as we visit public spaces will avoid uncomfortable situations for employees of the establishment you are visiting. People working at local businesses and other public venues are simply trying to make a living and are doing their best under difficult circumstances.”

PRICE CHOPPER/MARKET 32: “Given that checking vaccine status of every person entering our stores throughout the day and night would be practically impossible, Price Chopper/Market 32 has chosen to ask customers, teammates and others in our stores to wear masks, regardless of vaccine status.”

STEWART’S SHOPS: “We will be following the governor’s updated mask guidelines, requiring all (medically able) customers and partners to wear a mask while in our New York shops. … We are all in this together and we ask our customers to be respectful of one another and follow the mask protocols.” Customers at Stewart’s stores in Vermont needn’t mask up if they are vaccinated.

NONCOMPLIANCE: Some businesses are refusing to comply, if quietly. Others make their civil disobedience known, such as a World Gym franchise outside Rochester, which announced Wednesday on Facebook it would be a guest on Fox & Friends on Thursday morning. The followup comment: “Your goal is to make the local news for being a plague rat?”

HUDSON’S PRIVATE CHEF SERVICES: The Fort Edward entrepreneur posted on Facebook, “Don’t wanna deal with wearing a mask in your favorite restaurant? Then have us bring the restaurant to YOU in the comfort of your own home. No mandates required! Contact us today for a consultation and let’s plan your next dinner at home with a chef!”

LAWRENCE STREET TAVERN: The Glens Falls watering hole is cutting back to Thursday to Saturday operation and requiring everyone to show proof of vaccination at the door. There is so much singing, dancing, karaoke and close contact that masking would be too hard to enforce.

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