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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is facing pushback against her mask mandate from Republican and Democratic county executives who say they will not enforce the order on Long Island, north of the Big Apple and elsewhere in the Empire State.
Speaking at a press conference in western New York Monday, Hochul argued that enforcing the mask mandate “is the easiest thing you can do” to combat the spread of the new variants of COVID-19. The Democrat affirmed that “this is not that big of a deal” to businesses she’s spoken to in that region, despite at least a dozen county executives elsewhere in the state criticizing the mandate.
New York State Governor Kathy Hochul addresses the media during the 2021 New York City Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11, 2021 in New York City. (John Lamparski/Getty Images)
More than a dozen counties said they will not enforce the mandate, the Democrat & Chronicle reported. The measure requires everyone at indoor establishments that are not private homes to wear a mask regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated. Enforcement falls on county health departments, which would issue $1,000 fines.
But local leaders refusing to enforce the mandate say their health departments are stretched thin and tensions are high among residents familiar with prolonged statewide COVID-19 restrictions last year, after New York City became the center of the pandemic in March 2020.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, a Republican representing the Poughkeepsie area, rejected Hochul’s mask mandate, tweeting: “We will not escalate tension or conflict or further burden our local small (businesses) by allocating resources we do not have to this impractical & unenforceable measure.”
Molinaro, whose father died from COVID-19, has accused county Democrats of spreading the false rumor that he tested positive for COVID-19 after being spotted out and about maskless.
Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone also indicated last week that the eastern end of Long Island would not do “hard enforcement” of the mask mandate.
In Nassau County, closest to neighboring Queens, incoming Republican executive Bruce Blakeman said he would not enforce the mask mandate once he takes office Jan. 1.
“Come January 1st, my administration will move Nassau forward with a common sense approach that acknowledges the facts, science and progress made by our residents while also protecting businesses and jobs from any further damage created by government mandates,” Blakeman said in a statement.
“Nassau County is not in crisis, and should not be painted with the same broad brush as the rest of the state. Ninety-seven percent of adults in Nassau County have received at least their first dose of the vaccine and Nassau hospitals have adequate capacity to handle existing demand.”
Until then, current Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, told the New York Post last week she would not be actively enforcing the mask mandate but would be responding to complaints and assisting businesses with compliance however possible.
Of the five suburban counties north of Manhattan, only Westchester has voiced strong support for the mandate. Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a Democrat who recently tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, said he would enforce Hochul’s mandate “to the best of our ability and with great discretion and understanding,” the Yonkers Times reported.
The governor said most counties are complying with the mask mandate and the state would be sending inspectors to do spot checks and provide other resources for enforcement.
“Masks are so simple,” Hochul said Monday. “Because we’re doing the right thing, we don’t have to talk about shutdowns.”
Addressing media at a press conference in Albany on Monday, Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is challenging Hochul in the gubernatorial race, said the mask directive was the right approach and defied moves by other nearby states, WNYT reported.