GENESEO, N.Y. (WROC) — Livingston County and Ontario County officials say they will not be enforcing the state’s new mask mandate for indoor public spaces, which went into effect Monday.
“Governor Hochul derided the use of these types of measures just days ago,” said David LeFeber, Chairman of the Livingston County Board of Supervisors in a statement. “Now, we are back to Cuomo-era approaches. That is an unfortunate, and swift, switch of position by the Governor.
“Livingston County has taken a position that we will not be enforcing this state mandate at the local / county level,” LeFeber said. “Any state mandate of this type should come with corresponding state-led oversight and resources from the state government, not pushed down to counties to handle the work of enforcement for an ‘unenforceable’ mandate that is due to be re-assessed in approximately 30 days.”
LeFeber said complaints and calls related to issues of masks and business mandates should, and will, be forwarded to the New York State Department of Health as the rightful responding agency for any enforcement consideration.
Ontario County Administrator Chris DeBolt issued a statement Monday, saying the county does not have sufficient staff to enforce an indoor mask mandate.
“Given our limited resources, and the toll the pandemic has already taken on our Public Health staff, we
need to focus our limited resources on the most efficient and impactful public health intervention
strategies, DeBolt’s statement said. “For Ontario County, that includes continuing vaccine and booster distribution, facilitating testing in schools to keep children in the classroom, and conducting case investigations and cluster and outbreak management protocols.”
Livingston and Ontario join several other New York counties which have expressed they would not enforce the new mandate, including Madison, Niagara, and Rensselaer. On Friday, shortly after the mandate was announced, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza issued a joint statement that expressed support for the measure, but fell short of saying they would be enforcing the new rules:
“Governor Hochul’s announcement is in line with the State of Emergency in effect here in Monroe County and reinforces what we’ve been urging residents to do as we’ve seen our hospitalization numbers increase – wear a mask when in indoor public spaces and get vaccinated,” the statement read. “My [Bello’s] office has been in contact with leaders in the business community, and we are prepared to provide any necessary support once we see the full details of these new measures. In the interim, we encourage residents to take advantage of the free rapid test kits that Monroe County is making available to ensure we are gathering safely this holiday season. Residents can contact their local municipality for additional details regarding distribution events.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that due to rising COVID-19 rates statewide, masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.
This measure is effective December 13, 2021 until January 15, 2022, after which the state will re-evaluate based on current conditions. The new business and venue requirements extend to both patrons and staff.
According to state officials, this determination is based on the state’s weekly seven-day case rate as well as increasing hospitalizations. Officials from the governor’s office say, since Thanksgiving, the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43% and hospitalizations have increased by 29%. New York recorded more than 68,000 positive tests for the virus in the seven-day period that ended Wednesday — the most in any seven-day stretch since the start of February.
A violation of any provision of this measure is subject to all civil and criminal penalties, including a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. According to the governor, the respective business would face the fine for a violation, not an individual for not wearing a mask.
Local health departments are being asked to enforce these requirements, officials from the governor’s office say.
“This will largely fall on the businesses to maintain themselves and their patrons. A lot of this is actually going to be enforced just on the ‘honor system’,” explains Greg Rinckey, a co-founder of Tully Rinckey Attorneys and Counselors at Law. “Department of Health will be doing spot checks. They are going to be out, their inspectors will be out, inspecting large businesses, but there’s not enough Department of Health inspectors in the state to inspect everyone.”
Rinckey says the much more likely outcome is business owners relying on police and trespassing laws.
“Police are not really so much enforcing a mandate, so much as enforcing what the business owner is saying that they are requiring for entry. If you continue to enter against that business owner’s will, you’re basically committing a crime of trespass,” he said.
He also says confrontational customers won’t have a leg to stand on if they try to refuse requirements based on health privacy or discrimination claims.
“Business owners are going to be backed up by the power of the state, and the state has general police powers for health and welfare, especially in a pandemic,” Rinckey said. “The out for business owners is if a person says, I don’t want to or have to show you my medical documents, okay then wear a mask. If not, then be prepared for action to be taken at that owner’s discretion.”
Judith Hunter, Chari of the Livingston County Democratic Committee released a statement Tuesday saying the Board of Supervisors’ decision of not enforcing the mandate will only “prolong our problems with COVID-19.” Hunter’s full statement is as follows:
“The Board of Supervisors’ announced policy of not enforcing the new state mask mandate will only prolong our problems with COVID and puts our citizens and businesses at risk.
Masks and vaccines are clearly two of the best tools we have for fighting this virus, and they are the most effective ways to protect not only our health but our economy. The Supervisors’ blatant defiance of state public health measures is both dangerous and misleading. They are ignoring their responsibilities to protect their communities. They are also sanctioning risky behavior, giving citizens the impression that the state mask mandate is not in effect, which it actually is.
In fact, the County Health Department is encouraging people who see violations of the mask mandate to call a state hotline to report them. Businesses are put in the impossible situation of having a customer base who thinks the mandate doesn’t apply to them because they’re in Livingston County, while at the same time being liable for a $1,000 penalty for each violation. That is a disservice to everyone.
The Board of Supervisors Chair Don LaFeber makes much of the fact that the State Department of Health and Governor Hochul have changed their policy on mandating masks or proof of vaccination. That is simply because the facts on the ground have changed, as local decisions have clearly not led to good results controlling COVID. Infections are up across the state by 43% since just Thanksgiving. Local hospitals are stretched beyond the breaking point, unable to accommodate the elective procedures they need to survive financially and some having to rely on assistance from other parts of the state to maintain services. Given such dire circumstances, of course the state had to act. Obviously, leaving things to local government was not enough. Irresponsibly abdicating the Supervisors’ enforcement responsibilities will only make things worse.”
Full Livingston County statement
Full Ontario County statement
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.