New York Won’t Crack Down on Counties That Refuse to Enforce Mask Mandate

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks during an event at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association in New York City, November 10, 2021. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Three days after New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that she was imposing a statewide mask mandate for all businesses and venues that don’t already have a vaccine requirement, she acknowledged Monday that the state will not force county leaders to comply.

Hochul’s announcement comes as several Republican county executives pushed back on the new mandate and said publicly that they will not enforce it. Some said new masking requirements would further harm businesses already struggling through their second holiday season during the Covid-19 pandemic. Others said enforcing the mandate would take away resources that could be better used trying to get more New Yorkers vaccinated.

Hochul reinstituted the mask mandate on Friday based on the rising number of Covid cases and hospitalizations in the state, particularly in upstate New York. It officially went into effect on Monday and will remain in effect until January 15, when it will be reevaluated. However, the leaders of at least five counties have already announced that they have no intention of enforcing the mandate.

MaryEllen Odell, county executive in Putnam County, called the mandate unrealistic and bad for businesses. “Our Main Street businesses have followed all the rules, from recommendations and guidelines to shutdowns throughout this pandemic in order to keep the public and their customers safe and healthy,” Odell said in a prepared statement. “Now, in the midst of the holiday season, business owners are facing numerous operating issues including supply chain and hiring difficulties. We cannot expect them to implement this unrealistic order.”

Odell said the local health department is a team of health care officials who educate and inform residents about how to protect themselves. “It is not a policing agency,” she said.

Rockland County executive Ed Day said Hochul’s staff was unable to provide detailed information about the new requirement, including the metrics needed to evaluate it.

“All of these details and more should have been provided to counties ahead of a public announcement so that we could prepare for any actions our staff is expected to take and so that we could in turn provide this information to our local businesses and residents,” Day said in a prepared statement. “Once again, we are left fielding questions from our citizens that have no answers; an incredibly frustrating situation caused solely by poor communication from New York State and Governor Hochul.”

Day also said he could not “in good conscience” redirect the local health department to shift its focus away from its current vaccination effort. “That would be utterly reckless,” he said.

Steve McLaughlin, the Rensselaer County executive, called Hochul’s mandate an “overreach,” and he said it comes “when residents and businesses are already struggling.”

“Residents are already taking common-sense precautions and businesses, organizations and other establishments have been going above and beyond to keep the public and customers safe,” McLaughlin said a prepared statement. “Rensselaer County will not utilize resources to enforce this new state mandate. If the state wants to enforce the mandate, the state will need to utilize state resources for those actions.”

On Monday, Hochul acknowledged that the state would not be enforcing the mask mandate.

“We have left this to the counties to enforce,”Hochul said at a press conference about an unrelated matter, according to local media reports. “We hope that counties will enforce it. We expect that they will. We hope that they will. It’s in the best interests of public health.”

The other counties that have said they will not enforce the mask mandate are Dutchess, Madison, and Niagara. Nassau County’s incoming executive Bruce Blakeman said Monday that he also will not enforce the mandate once he takes office on January 1, according to Newsday.

More than 80 percent of New Yorkers — and more than 93 percent of New Yorkers 18 and over — have received at least once vaccine dose, according to a state Covid-19 vaccine tracker. Other states that have instituted new indoor mask mandates include Washington, Oregon, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada, and Hawaii.

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Ryan Mills is an enterprise and media reporter at National Review. He previously worked for 14 years as a breaking news reporter, investigative reporter, and editor at newspapers in Florida. Originally from Minnesota, Ryan lives in the Fort Myers area with his wife and two sons.