MARILLA, N.Y. (WKBW) — The opposition to the County-wide mask mandate put into place by County Exexcutive Mark Poloncarz about on November 23rd has created mixed feelings among town governments, private businesses, and individuals across Western New York.
"It is ridiculous. We will not comply," said Earl Gingerich Jr., the Town Supervisor of Marilla.
The Town Supervisor tells 7 Eyewitness News that he will not enforce the County police of mask wearing in all public indoor businesses, including bars, restaurants, stores, and the like.
"This controversy is hurting our business. It is driving people away, and sticking us into a battle of policy and politics that we didn't create, can't resolve, and didn't deserve," said Sandra Grunzweig, the owner and operator of the Marilla County Store - the longest operating store in New York State and a community staple.
The Marilla Country Store has decided to follow the County-wide guidelines, disregarding the Town Supervisors sentiment against masks. They do require masks upon entry.
"We've absolutely had issues enforcing the policy. It's not enforceable, short of having a guard at the door," said Grunzweig.
Grunzweig shared these social media comments with 7 Eyewitness News to showcase the disparity amongst its customers, and the loss of business the controversy has caused:
The Town of West Seneca joining Marilla in its distaste for the mask mandate, but also acknowledging they will not break the County Executive's policies.
Town Supervisor Gary Dickson stresses the fact that he believes there is a better solution to helping Western New York battle COVID-19, and it starts by finding lost hospital space.
This is his statement to 7 Eyewitness News:
"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. 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."
The Town Supervisor hosted his first Town Hall meeting since the comments on November 29th, with little push back from residents.
In addition, the County Executive has issued statements responding to both Marilla and West Seneca's Town Supervisor statements - but has not issued any guidance on how enforcement of these policies will be enacted outside of his original press conference on November 22nd:
“Instead of the business being fined - the individual who is violating the mask order be fined. We’re not certain we can do that but we are looking into it. We just want everyone to comply," said County Executive Poloncarz.
His statements on the actions of the Town Supervisors:
Statement on 11/26 on Marilla –
It’s a shame when an elected official values political posturing over protecting the health and safety of their constituents. Earlier today we heard from a Marilla business owner who said that he and other business owners were never consulted before this announcement was made, and they plan to comply with the mask mandate and not be grouped into whatever the Supervisor is doing. With virus cases on the rise and new strains of the virus being identified, it’s more important than ever to protect ourselves and others and masking is an important step.
Statement on 11/27 on West Seneca –
Erie County will continue working closely with local hospitals and with NYS on capacity issues, which are real and can’t be ignored.
Statement on 11/28 on request for interview
We’ve sent statements your way for the past few days on this so we’ll just stand by them again today. Thanks.