ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) — It’s a headline sweeping across New York State on Tuesday. The state supreme court struck down Governor Kathy Hochul’s statewide mask mandate, deeming it unconstitutional.

Judge Thomas Rademaker of Nassau County wrote that the governor does not have the authority to impose the mandate since emergency powers are no longer in place.

The court document states, “While the intentions of Commissioner Bassett and Governor Hochul appear to be well-aimed squarely at doing what they believe is right to protect the citizens of New York State, they must take their case to the State Legislature.”

The mandate was enacted by Gov. Hochul last month, requiring face coverings in schools and other public places, in order to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19, amid the rise of the omicron variant.

The Governor responded to the news vowing to fight the ruling in the appeals court.

“My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul

Legal experts say this is only the beginning of this case and it will likely play out in higher courts in the coming weeks. Attorney Michael Donlon of Welch, Donlon, and Czarples said the initial case played out rather quickly in court compared to other pandemic-related lawsuits. Attorney General Letitia James filed initial documents to enact a stay in the rule while the state prepares to appeal the ruling, according to the New York Times. Another judge ruled to allow the stay late Tuesday afternoon.

“Letitia James did file her notice of intent to appeal and that will trigger the automatic stay in this case. The mask mandate remains in place,” Donlon said.

Businesses and residents are still confused if they should mask or if the ruling makes it optional. Medical experts suggest using a mask in order to mitigate the spread of airborne diseases like COVID-19.

“It’s a simple thing to do that can minimize our chances of getting sick with COVID-19,” Dr. Justin Nistico, infectious disease expert at Arnot Health, added. “This is actually working. If it wasn’t working, that’s another argument, but we know that this works… we should continue to do it.”

School districts across the state are responding to this news. Elmira City Schools say they will continue to enforce the mask mandate per the ruling Monday.

“According to an update we’ve received from the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the State has filed an appeal of the recent decision from Nassau County, in Demetriou et al. v. New York State Dep’t of Health et al. The filing of the appeal automatically stays the judge’s decision which means the mask mandate is still in effect. As a District, we prioritize communication with our community and will continue to keep our families updated on this topic as we receive more information from New York State.”

Hillary J. Austin, Superintendent of Schools, Elmira City School District.

From the legal perspective, masks are still required per the state mandate, but if it is lifted or the stay is not allowed, businesses will still have the option to require face coverings.

“The law is like an onion in there so many layers to peel back to get to who has authority to regulate your freedoms, but once you walk into a private space that’s owned by an individual, those same freedoms are not carried along with you,” Donlon continued.

Tops Friendly Markets said they will amend their mask mandate amid the ruling, but all employees are still required to mask up.

“We also yesterday just learned that the New York State Supreme Court overturned Governor Hochul’s original mask mandate. The mandate that was overturned was her order for all patrons and public-facing workers to wear face masks, previously effective Monday, December 13, 2021.   Tops will continue to monitor, comply, and evolve with changes as they arise. 

Starting today in Tops New York stores, except in Erie County or where other county mandates apply, customers will have the option of wearing a mask while shopping if they choose to.  We continue to require all our employees to wear a face covering while working as they have been doing since August 2021.”

Tops Friendly Markets

As the appeals process continues, Donlon said these rulings will not only be important for how we handle the pandemic now, but also how we handle similar health crises in the future.