Enforcement remains tricky as NYS issues new indoor mask, vaccination requirement

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Precedent and previous mandates have shown neither the state, nor local leaders are 100 percent clear on how to enforce COVID-19 requirements.

“This will largely fall on the businesses to maintain themselves and their patrons. A lot of this is actually going to be enforced just on the ‘honor system’,” explains Greg Rinckey, a co-founder of Tully Rinckey Attorneys and Counselors at Law. “Department of Health will be doing spot checks. They are going to be out, their inspectors will be out, inspecting large businesses, but there’s not enough Department of Health inspectors in the state to inspect everyone.”

Governor Hochul’s Friday announcement says businesses must make entry conditional on providing proof of vaccination status or else require all patrons and employees to wear masks at all times, with the exceptions of eating and drinking, and effective Monday. Violators of this new mandate could be fined up to $1,000, and Hochul says local health departments are tasked with enforcing the indoor mandate requirements.

Some like Albany County Executive Dan McCoy have high praise for Governor Hochul’s initiative amid rising tides of positive cases. His statement reads:

I have continually said that any kind of mask or vaccine requirement would only be truly effective if it’s done at least on a regional basis. As we see new daily cases of COVID spike here in Albany County, and across the Capital Region and the State, and as the Omicron variant spreads, I applaud Governor Hochul for demonstrating leadership in the face of a pandemic that has forced all of us to make difficult decisions that prioritize the health and safety of our people. This statewide policy will help us stem the tide of new infections, which will prevent more hospitalizations and deaths as we approach the winter months.

However, others like Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin say those rising responsibilities are exactly why counties can’t afford the manpower or the time to enforce a new mandate. His full statement says:

This is the wrong direction for the state to be taking, especially given the innumerable orders, policy changes and directives already made during the past two years. This is an overreach and it comes at a time 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. Over 80 percent of state residents have already been fully vaccinated.

The county Health Department has been providing a seven-day-a-week, round-the-clock response to the pandemic for nearly two years. They are working on contact tracing, immunization clinics and many other duties and do not have the time or resources to deal with yet another state mandate.

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.

An additional statement from Rensselaer County Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas also says:

We are impressed that many residents have already gotten fully vaccinated and are taking reasonable and common-sense steps to deal with the pandemic. Businesses and organizations are also working to keep the public safe and we appreciate the patience and cooperation of the public as we are dealing with the expected and seasonal increase in cases.

Our Health Department is already dealing with an increase in contact tracing of cases, conducting three vaccination clinics each week and also handling the many other duties and responsibilities for our department. We simply do not have the staff to deal with the latest mandate by the state or enforcement of the mandate. We will remain focused on our current duties.

Legal expert Greg Rinckey says the much more likely outcome is business owners relying on police and trespassing laws.

“Police are not really so much enforcing a mandate, so much as enforcing what the business owner is saying that they are requiring for entry. If you continue to enter against that business owner’s will, you’re basically committing a crime of trespass,” Rinckey explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

He also says confrontational customers won’t have a leg to stand on if they try to refuse requirements based on health privacy or discrimination claims.

“Business owners are going to be backed up by the power of the state, and the state has general police powers for health and welfare, especially in a pandemic,” he says. “The out for business owners is if a person says, I don’t want to or have to show you my medical documents, okay then wear a mask. If not, then be prepared for action to be taken at that owner’s discretion.”

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