ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Local leaders are responding to the Governor’s December 10 announcement that masks or proof of vaccination will be required in indoor public spaces.
In Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties, officials told 18 News their case counts were high, and some experts went on to say it is overwhelming. Steuben County Public Health Director Darlene Smith said there is a significant strain on local hospitals and healthcare systems who are trying to mitigate the spread.
“I think we need to do something because obviously what we’ve been doing is not necessarily working,” Smith said. “It’s another layer of work that that I don’t have the staff for. We are overwhelmed with the task of triaging over 100 new positive COVID cases every single day.”
Chemung County Executive Chris Moss and Public Health Director Pete Buzzetti held a press conference Friday afternoon from the Hazlett Building in Elmira in response to the mandate. Moss instated a mask mandate in all county buildings in August 2021, but has been opposed to a county-wide mandate.
“I really don’t feel this my position at this point. The state has gone ahead and made the rule so that’s what the rule is,” Moss added.
In a press release, Moss said that Acting Commissioner of Homeland Security and Public Safety Jackie Bray told counties about the mandate this morning, saying that enforcement of the policy would fall to local health departments. However, Moss said several local governments pushed back, arguing the state should be responsible for enforcing the mandate “due to limited resources of various counties.”
In Schuyler County, current COVID-19 cases have surpassed the previous peak from earlier this year. While cases are high, officials say hospitalizations remain low, which is a good sign moving forward. In regard to the mandate, Deputy County Administrator Fonda Chronis said they will enforce the new rules as outlined by New York State.
“Counties are administrative arms arms of the state, so we have a requirement to to follow those mandates,” Chronis said.
As for businesses, they are concerned about asking their patrons for proof of vaccination or to mask up. Tops and Wegmans have announced they are requiring masks for all shoppers, but the mandate could greatly impact small businesses who are just getting back on their feet.
“Because there would be a chance of an $1,000 fine…, we may have to enforce the fact that perhaps our employees may have to wear them, but we will not target our patrons,” Jodi Skroskznik, manager at Light’s Coffee Shop in Elmira, told 18 News.
Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Friday that due to rising COVID-19 rates statewide, masks will be required to be worn in all indoor public places unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.
“We are entering a time of uncertainty,” Gov. Hochul said Friday morning while speaking at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center at Goddard Riverside in New York City. “We can either plateau here or our cases can escalate beyond control. We are heading in an upward direction that I find is no longer sustainable.”
According to state officials, this determination is based on the state’s weekly seven-day case rate as well as increasing hospitalizations. The new business and venue requirements extend to both patrons and staff.
This measure is effective December 13, 2021 until January 15, 2022, after which the state will re-evaluate based on current conditions.