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Some county leaders vow not to enforce state mask mandate

"We're not enforcing it"
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Posted at 6:11 PM, Dec 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-13 18:11:51-05

CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY, NY (WKBW) — Some county leaders in Western New York are vowing not to enforce the state-wide mask mandate issued by Governor Kathy Hochul last Friday.

Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel tells 7 Eyewitness News he’s not against wearing face masks but is against the mandate.

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Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel, in a Zoom interview Monday.

Wendel says he will not crack down on those businesses or individuals who do not comply.

“We’re not going to enforce the penalty of a monetary, criminal or civil penalty to those who are not following it,” replied Wendel.

Wendel says the governor and New York State Department of Health (DOH) did not give county executive's any heads up that the state-wide face mask mandate was coming.

But Governor Hochul, in responding to reporter questions on the topic Monday, says some county leaders actually reached out to her for support on the topic.

“Some county executives have asked us to do this,” replied Governor Hochul. “I’ve had calls from even in some of the more rural areas.”

But the Governor said she will be leaving enforcement of her state-wide mandate up to businesses.

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Governor Kathy Hochul responding to questions on mandate Monday.

“I’m not attempting to be heavy handed,” stated Hochul.

Hochul said she is hoping businesses will enforce this and individuals will understand how important the mandate is.

“We hope that counties will enforce it. We expect that they will. We hope that they will. It’s in the best interest of public health,” responded Hochul.

Hochul noted the mask mandate is only a “temporary measure” and that it will be reassessed on January 15.

On Friday, Hochul stated that she had no choice with rising COVID cases and hospitalizations across the state, major action was needed.

She also pointed out businesses have the option to require vaccines over masks.

“We have left this to the counties to enforce,” noted Hochul.

7 Eyewitness News senior reporter Eileen Buckley asked Chautauqua County Wendel if not supporting the mandate would hurt businesses.

“I’ve had a lot of different questions on that,” replied Wendel. “Does that hurt our businesses, by not supporting it, some would say yes. Others would say it’s helping our businesses by letting them get on.”

Wendel was critical of the state and Governor for failing to explain the criminality of not following the mandate.

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Return to masks in public under state-wide mask mandate.

“We don’t know where the penalty is. These questions have yet to be answered,” remarked Wendel. “We’re not enforcing it. We're not going to penalize people financially who've been having a hard enough time."

But Wendel says he does encourage mask wearing and getting vaccinated.

The health departments in Genesee and Orleans counties also announcing Monday they would not be enforcing the mask mandates.

“The Genesee and Orleans county health departments (go health) will continue to focus our efforts on offering free vaccination and testing clinics as well as conducting case investigations,” said Paul Pettit, Genesee and Orleans public health director. “we do not have the capacity to enforce mask mandates and enforcing mandates is not the best use of our limited resources at this point of the pandemic response. as we have throughout the pandemic in line with CDC guidance, we continue to advise residents to properly wear masks indoors when social/physical distancing is not possible.”

“As we did during the last surge, Genesee county will take the approach with our community to educate to cooperate in regards to the benefits of masking and social distancing,” stated Rochelle Stein, Genesee county legislature chair.

“In Orleans county, we will continue to focus our county resources on vaccinations, contact tracing, testing and working to keep children in school,” said lynne Johnson, Orleans county legislature chair. “we held two clinics this week, one for testing and one for booster shots. we continue to seek more testing resources from the state, because we believe identifying and isolating those who test positive is the greatest need right now to reduce the spread.”

Erie County issued its own mask mandate in November. But the Erie County Department of Health announced Monday that to date it has not issued any fines related to the mask mandate.

“Our public health sanitarians’ primary focus right now is education for facility owners and operators.

Our environmental health staff are following up on complaints with investigations and site visits. not all site visits are based on complaints. for example, if sanitarians go to a shopping plaza for a complaint investigation, they visit the surrounding businesses for an educational site visit and to distribute boxes of masks for employees and patrons. they also have been out in the city of buffalo for strictly educational outreach; that will be extended to the rest of the county.

The overwhelming, on-the-ground response from owners and operators has been positive and appreciative. they want their employees, customers and clients to be safe and healthy. that’s our shared goal.

Our department has also sent thousands of informational letters to facilities with the details of the county’s emergency orders.”

Kara Kane | Public Information Officer (Health)
Erie County | Health