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West Seneca Supervisor says Erie County needs to end state of emergency and draft new COVID response plan

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Posted at 11:47 AM, Nov 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-27 12:33:11-05

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WKBW) — West Seneca Supervisor Gary Dickson issued a lengthy statement Saturday in response to the mask mandate that was put in place in Erie County earlier this week.

The mask requirement applies to all public indoor settings with one exception. According to the county, " venues that have strict vaccine requirements for entrance, such as Highmark Stadium and KeyBank Center, would not have to require masks for vaccinated individuals under these orders."

The mask mandate is part of a four-phase approach from the county that includes the following:

  • Phase 1: Mask mandate for all indoor public locations
  • Phase 2: Vaccine mandate
  • Phase 3: Capacity Restrictions
  • Phase 4: Shutdowns

COVID-19 data will be reviewed in three weeks, on December 13, and a decision on entering Phase 2 could be made then.

Dickson's statement Saturday said in part that the county needs to end the the state of emergency and draft a new COVID response plan that he said recognizes the new reality "that COVID will be with us for a long time, that hospital capacity needs to increase immediately, and that mask and vaccine mandates are counterproductive and abusive of residents’ rights."

The West Seneca Supervisor also said in his statement "the economic damage caused by the early lockdown and the damage to our children’s education may have been justified in 2020, but now, in the second year of the pandemic, the cost is too much. Any and all measures should be exhausted prior to bringing mandates back."

Saturday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an executive order aimed at boosting hospital capacity across the state ahead of a potential winter spike in COVID-19 cases.

Dickson's statement comes days after Town of Marilla Supervisor Earl Gingerich, Jr. said the town would not comply or participate in the mandate.

You can read Dickson's full statement below:

The County Executive’s recent emergency order regarding masks does not address the root cause of the hospital utilization problem and is an abuse of the rights of every person in Erie County. Rather than use his emergency powers to increase hospital capacity to what it was earlier this year, he has decided to force the entire population of Erie County to wear masks and threatens to require proof of vaccination to enter an array of small businesses.  

In the beginning of the pandemic severe restrictions were implemented to “flatten the curve” so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed with patients. Hospital capacity was increased by converting St. Joseph’s Hospital to a specialized COVID hospital and opening other facilities was considered. These and other measures worked and the spread of COVID was slowed.  

Unfortunately, complacency set in, and since the beginning of this year the total number of inpatient beds in Erie County hospitals has dropped by over ten percent according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[1][1] This has left the hospital system vulnerable to a rise in COVID cases, as we see today. If this drop in capacity had not occurred, the hospital system would not be stressed and there would be no reason for mandates.  

Whatever the cause of the loss of hospital capacity, everything possible should be done immediately to reverse this trend, especially the requirement that hospital workers must be vaccinated or lose their jobs. The economic damage caused by the early lockdown and the damage to our children’s education may have been justified in 2020, but now, in the second year of the pandemic, the cost is too much. Any and all measures should be exhausted prior to bringing mandates back.  

I am sure that the County Executive, like most of us, believed that the vaccines meant the end of the pandemic. As a result, American Rescue Plan money is being spent on non-COVID uses such as parks and staffing new positions, not on expanding hospital capacity. Unfortunately, the virus has proven to be more resilient than expected, and the vaccines are not as effective as hoped. But the county’s own data shows that the number of hospitalizations and deaths have not risen at the same rate as the number of new cases. This is good news.  

A true leader has the confidence and humility to admit when mistakes are made. I call on the County Executive to end the state of emergency and work with county legislators, city and village mayors, and town supervisors, to draft a COVID response plan that recognizes the new reality – that COVID will be with us for a long time, that hospital capacity needs to increase immediately, and that mask and vaccine mandates are counterproductive and abusive of residents’ rights.  
- Supervisor Dickson

7 Eyewitness News reached out to Erie County for a comment on the matter, a spokesperson issued the following statement:

Erie County will continue working closely with local hospitals and with NYS on capacity issues, which are real and can’t be ignored.
- Erie Co. spokesperson

The Erie County Legislature Minority Caucus has introduced a resolution that, if passed, would call on the New York State Senate and Assembly to revoke Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz's emergency powers.

New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan (R - 59th District) held a press conference to introduce legislation that, if passed, would "amend the state's executive law and public health law in relation to the length of time local governments can impose an emergency declaration and emergency orders. The bill would ensure checks and balances in local government."

Local businesses are also planning to sue Erie County over the mask mandate, according to HoganWillig Attorneys at Law.