BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Western New York counties are reacting to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul's announcement of a statewide mask mandate for New York effective December 13 for all businesses and venues.
Chautauqua County has continually recommended that people wear masks indoors, especially when social distancing is not possible, as part of a multi-layered COVID-19 mitigation strategy. We have felt that a mandate was not the best approach to engage our residents nor is the enforcement of such a mandate the best use of our resources. In addition to vaccination, we strongly recommend masking, frequent hand washing, social distancing, and staying home when ill.
Today, Governor Hochul announced a statewide indoor mask mandate unless proof of vaccination is given at entry to public spaces. We are disappointed in the rollout of this announcement. How the state intends to enforce this mandate is not clear but our local health departments certainly do not have the capability to do so. Our intention is to take a proactive health education approach to improve cooperation with mitigation strategies and increase vaccination rates. No guidance or regulations have been issued by the New York State Department of Health yet so we need to wait and see what is issued.
In Chautauqua County, we need to focus our resources on education, vaccination, contact tracing, testing and working to keep kids in school and people at work. We have never had a state run testing or vaccination site in our county. The lion’s share of this entire pandemic response has been on the shoulders of our small health department. To even think of adding the enforcement of another state mandate to this dedicated but exhausted staff is reprehensible.
The Chautauqua’s County Health Department will be conducting free COVID-19 rapid PCR testing Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week at the South County Office Building in Jamestown in addition to the rapid testing already being done daily in partnership with BOCES for school staff and students. The Health Department is also holding a free COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Monday, December 13, at Jamestown Community College. We believe that encouraging vaccinations and identifying and isolating those who test positive is the greatest need right now to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and subsequently prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from complications of the infection.
Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel and Public Health Director Christine Schuyler
With new COVID-19 cases rapidly increasing across New York State, I commend Governor Hochul for following Erie County's lead and implementing a statewide mask requirement for all indoor public locations, or, alternatively, permitting the business to choose to implement a vaccine mandate for all persons entering the premises. The COVID-19 virus does not respect county or other municipal boundaries. In order to respond to the growing regional and statewide threat, unified action is needed. I thank the governor for taking that action by implementing an indoor mask requirement because, the facts are clear, wearing a mask can help stop the transmission and further spread of COVID-19.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz
Niagara County has said right along that we believe it is advisable for people to wear masks indoors, especially when social distancing is not possible, as part of a multi-layered COVID-19 mitigation strategy, but that a mandate was not the best approach nor the enforcement of such a mandate the best use of our resources.
Today, Governor Hochul has instituted a statewide indoor mask mandate through January 5 but how the state intends to enforce this mandate is not clear. To the extent that we are asked to take part in any sort of enforcement of Governor Hochul’s mask mandate, we will be taking an educate to cooperate approach.
In Niagara County, we will continue to focus our county resources on vaccinations, contact tracing, testing and working to keep kids in school. As a matter of fact, we held five vaccination clinics this week. We continue to seek more testing resources from the state, including reopening the free testing site at NCCC, because we believe identifying and isolating those who test positive is the greatest need right now to reduce the spread.
Niagara County Legislature Chairwoman Becky Wydysh
7 Eyewitness News has reached out to every county in Western New York for reaction to the mask mandate; once we get those replies we will include them in this article.