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Erie County comptroller proposes refunding businesses issued mask fines

Posted at 4:46 PM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-20 12:23:26-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Business is cooking at Artone’s Pizza and Subs on Seneca Street in South Buffalo.

“Our good food sells itself,” owner Joseph Kurnik said.

But, it hasn’t come without challenges. According Kurnik, the cost of business has skyrocketed in recent months.

“During the pandemic, I was getting gloves for $28 a case. Now, they’re about $100 a case.”

In June, the shop was also fined $300 by the Erie County Department of Health for its second mask violation offense. He said a health inspector observed this daughter with a mask on, but below her nose, and issued the violation.

“It’s just ridiculous what’s going on,” Kurnik said.

Artone’s is one of more than 50 restaurants in Erie County to be fined for COVID-19 violations according to a report by Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw.

According to Mychajliw, the report was conducted after a photo surfaced last month of Polonarz huddled together with some fellow golfers not wearing a mask during a golf tournament. Poloncarz justified the photo because it was a group of less than 50 people together for less than 10 minutes.

Mychajliw said businesses with mask violations in Erie County have been wrongly fined on Poloncarz watch, and is calling for them to be refunded.

Reporter Ali Touhey: Is this Mark Poloncarz fault though?

Mychajliw: Oh, I think it is. He has set an established rule that if you're around someone for less than 10 minutes, not wearing a mask, you're perfectly healthy and you're perfectly safe. So, he has one set of standards and then another for the businesses they are fining and shutting down.

A spokesman for Poloncarz is calling the latest report another political attack from the comptroller.

In a statement, the department of health said:

We are proud of the work our public health sanitarians do to educate, monitor and inspect food service facilities in Erie County under challenging and ever-changing circumstances. They play a key role in our public health operations and are a central part of our COVID response.

Our public health sanitarians apply NYS Sanitary Code and other NYS regulations to their inspections, and they do so consistently and fairly. Our department received and investigated nearly 3,000 COVID-related complaints since the declaration of the State of Emergency in March. That is in addition to the other regular inspections and re-inspections that they conduct. Despite being the first objective of this “report,” the comptroller failed to even mention these facts.

We have no way to address the “10 minute or less grace period” that the comptroller uses in his report. He appears to be confusing a guideline we use in our contact tracing process with some sort of food service regulation, and trying to make a connection where none exists.

In contact tracing, we use NYSDOH guidelines to define close contacts as individuals who are within 6 feet of a positive COVID case during a time when they were infectious.