ROTTERDAM — Three people called out Town Board member Joe Mastroianni during a meeting Wednesday night for refusing to wear a face mask, even though town policy and a state mandate require one be worn.
“Grow up,” screamed Rotterdam resident Bud Vincent, as Mastroianni again tried to explain why he was not wearing a mask.
Mastroianni faced criticism for showing up to the board’s second meeting of the year without a mask. Mastroianni also did not wear a mask during the board’s first meeting this year. Mastroianni previously said he was making a political statement regarding masking mandates, and that he does not believe masks prevent the spread of COVID.
However, public health experts have repeatedly stated that face masks help prevent the spread of the virus.
Vincent said he lost his brother-in-law to a heart attack just days before Christmas. His brother-in-law was put in an intensive care unit in Westchester County because there was no other space in nearby hospitals due to an influx of COVID patients, he said.
“My sister’s husband had to die in a hospital two hours away from his home, his five children and his extended family,” he said. “This virus affects everyone.”
Vincent said he was disturbed and angered by Mastroianni’s decision to not wear a mask.
“How can this Town Board call itself a board of health when they won’t even follow the medical advice themselves?” he asked.
He wasn’t the only one raising concerns.
Niskayuna resident Maya McNulty also spoke on the issue. McNulty said she is still experiencing long-term effects from her battle with COVID in March 2020. She was hospitalized for 69 days, including 30 days in an induced coma, and spent six weeks on a ventilator.
“I am a COVID long-hauler, having to re-learn how to walk, talk, write, read and eat again,” she said.
She said she is still seeing the effects of having COVID.
“I am still undergoing vestibular therapy for cognitive and physical neuropathy,” she said.
She created an at-home program to help survivors of COVID. At Wednesday’s meeting, she questioned Mastroianni, who is also the chairman of the town’s Health Committee, on his expertise.
The questions were whether Mastroianni was a doctor, scientist, survivor of COVID, a COVID long-hauler or an infectious disease specialist, and whether he knew a fact regarding masking.
Mastroianni said he did survive COVID.
“Frankly, it is beyond audacity to willingly and knowingly be aware of an active, two-year pandemic and claim, you’re waiting for higher government to pipe line your action steps to prevent harm,” she said, going on to note consequences the town faces for taking no action regarding masking.
Former town board member and Schenectady County Public Defender Stephen Signore also spoke on the matter from a legal perspective.
He quoted the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website, which states that a minimum fine for violating OSHA regulations is over $9,700, with a maximum of over $136,500 for each violation.
“One of the things I have learned throughout my career, is it does not matter how rich you are or how poor you are or where you stand or what our status is in life, that the rules apply to everyone,” Signore said.
Signore said he was disturbed to see a box of masks made available to those who may have forgotten one, yet there were members of the audience who were maskless.
“These are the rules that pertain to this town,” he said. “I don’t care whether or not there is a government mandate that says you have to wear a mask.”
It is only a matter of time, Signore said, until someone will review the town’s website and see there are people not complying with town policy.
“I haven’t seen anybody this evening to make an effort whatsoever to ask the people to please put on your mask or please leave,” he said.
Mastroianni said he welcomes spirited debate about the issue.
“I wouldn’t come here and not wear a mask if I felt it had any negative impact on anybody,” he said. “We are living in very strange times and the people that voted for me are very frustrated with the progression of mandates and rules and laws that aren’t doing anything to stem this pandemic that we are in.”
“It’s a very strange time that we’re in and it’s something that I think not everybody understands, but there’s a reason that law comes from the Legislature and doesn’t come from the executive branch.”
Mastroianni’s comments were cut short by Vincent speaking out against him and Supervisor Mollie Collins having to call the meeting back into order.
Schenectady County District 4 Legislator Josh Cuomo, who represents Rotterdam, Duanesburg and Princetown, said he supports Mastroianni.
“Mr. Mastroianni, I’d just like to say, you’ve taken a lot of punches here today but I want you to know a lot of us have your back and we support you,” Cuomo said.
He said Mastroianni was standing up for what he took an oath for, which was to defend the Constitution.
“Everyone has a right to do what they please, if you want to get vaccinated, if you don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s 100% up to you,” he said. “If you want to wear a mask or don’t want to wear a mask — that makes you more comfortable -– I believe that’s a personal choice.”