ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As the fate of New York’s indoor mask mandate continues to play out in the courts, Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said the science is clear: Masks work.

“COVID is still here, the signs are still the same,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We know that masks prevent the spread of COVID. Whatever happens in court doesn’t change the fact that masks work.”

The heath commissioner took questions on the pandemic following a press conference with local officials Tuesday on a nationwide blood supply crisis.

Dr. Mendoza compared the current mask mandate to wearing seat belts in cars, in that even if there came a time when it wasn’t legally required to use them, most people probably would because the science supports the safety and efficacy of which.

“My message to everyone is remember that the science should govern what we do,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I recommended we continue to wear our masks in public areas and schools.”

Although Monroe County and other areas of New York state have started to see a decline in new COVID-19 cases brought about by the omicron surge, the health commissioner said we’re not out of the woods yet, adding that masks will prevent the spread of more new cases.

“Now is our chance as a community,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Continue wearing our masks; our numbers are still high. They are declining, but they are still high. We fear that if everybody starts getting casual about mask wearing, we will return to higher numbers. Just because we are sick of COVID doesn’t mean it’s tired of us.

“There will be versions of this coronavirus in our community for years, I believe,” Dr. Mendoza said. “How fast this pandemic becomes endemic all comes down to how well we can work together.”

The health commissioner’s comments come one day after a New York State Supreme Court has struck down Governor Kathy Hochul’s statewide mask mandate as unconstitutional.

Judge Thomas Rademaker of Nassau County wrote that the governor does not have the authority to impose the mandate since emergency powers are no longer in place.

The court document states, “While the intentions of Commissioner Bassett and Governor Hochul appear to be well aimed squarely at doing what they believe is right to protect the citizens of New York State, they must take their case to the State Legislature.”

The mandate was enacted by Gov. Hochul last month, requiring face coverings in schools and other public places, in order to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant.

Governor Hochul released the following statement in regards to the ruling:

“My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”

State officials have already filed an appeal to the court’s ruling meaning, for now, the mandate stays in effect.

The State Education Department also issued a statement, saying students will likely be required to continue following the masking rules. That statement reads:

“The State Education Department understands that Nassau County Supreme Court has ruled that the Department of Health exceeded its authority in enacting the mask regulation, 10 NYCRR 2.60, in Demetriou et al. v. New York State Dep’t of Health et al. This regulation is the subject of conflicting decisions, insofar as Albany County Supreme Court recently upheld the regulation in Massapequa UFSD et al. v. Hochul, et al.
It is SED’s understanding that the Department of Health will appeal the Nassau County Supreme Court decision, which will result in an automatic stay that will unambiguously restore the mask rule until such time as an appellate court issues a further ruling. Therefore, schools must continue to follow the mask rule.”

State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt released a statement Monday evening, saying:

Nearly two years ago, New York became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state was shut down, our schools were closed, and our economy was decimated.

Nearly 700 days later, today’s ruling by a NYS Supreme Court Judge reinforces what my Republican colleagues and I have said from the beginning: it’s past time for Governor Hochul and Democrat One-Party Rule to end the mandates.

New Yorkers are fed up — and they are counting on us to return to a system of governance based on collaborative decision making, guidance, checks and balances.

Watch the full briefing

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.