The New Castle Town Board unanimously approved a local law Tuesday evening that requires the public to wear a face mask during the ongoing pandemic to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Believed to be the first local measure of its kind in the state, the law closely mirrors Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders imploring people to use face coverings but it now allows for enforcement.
It mandates everyone wear a face covering in a place o business and on public and private property if least six feet of separation cannot be maintained. It does not apply to people in the same household.
“What we are doing by introducing a local ordinance is simply giving our police department an enforcement mechanism, which does not exist in the governor’s current executive orders,” said Supervisor Ivy Pool.
Its passage comes less than a month after Horace Greeley High School’s drive-in graduation at the Chappaqua train station and a non-school sanctioned post-ceremony gathering caused a cluster of 27 COVID-19 cases. Pool said that incident forced more than 300 families in town to quarantine despite an overwhelming number of them having followed the protocols to stay in their vehicles.
Violators will be subject to a fine of up to $250 for the first offense and up to $500 for each subsequent offense if it is within one year.
The board’s vote followed a nearly hour-long live-streamed public hearing. Chappaqua resident Lori Morton enthusiastically supported the legislation since masks significantly cut down the spread of the virus. Mask wearing would also help to safely resume work, school, child care options and recreation, she said.
“Nose and mouth coverings are an essential component of this plan,” Morton said. “Without the public adherence to this simple precaution, local and national data demonstrate that virus resurgence is fast and dramatic.”
Several speakers questioned whether it was appropriate to extend the law to private homes. Resident Sean Maraynes said that could potentially lead to neighbors tattling on each other.
“I think I am concerned that this is going to give people with nothing better to do an opportunity to spin their wheels and talk behind their neighbors’ backs,” Maraynes said. “That’s really my concern, not that people are going to be hauled into court.”
Another resident, Margaret Macchetto, said it could give some residents license to call the police on their neighbors if, for example, they have extended family over to visit.
New Castle Police Chief James Carroll said that officers will not be driving around harassing residents at home. If there’s a specific complaint or if an officer spots a gathering as part of the routine patrol, it will be pursued, he said.
Around the time of the graduation the town received several complaints about large gatherings, Carroll said, including one party on June 28 involving graduates, the day after Cuomo issued an order forcing a quarantine of anyone who had attended the graduation.
“We are not forcing our way into anyone’s homes,” Carroll said. “We’re not seeking a search warrant to enforce this local ordinance. If we pull up and there’s 60 people on the front lawn and they’re not social distancing, do we have the right to go on the property and investigate? We absolutely do.”
Resident Jim McCauley, who also expressed unease that the law includes private property, said the board should have considered more targeted legislation. He said it seemed officials were reactionary because of the Greeley graduation.
“It just seems like overkill, chaining the barn door after the horses are out,” McCauley said.
Pool said the governor in recent weeks has repeatedly implored local governments to enforce mask wearing and social distancing protocols and the town was taking the initiative to accomplish that goal.
Town Board members agreed that protecting the health and safety of residents is the top priority despite any reservations.
“I think that the public policy purpose of this is way too important to let this go and not pass it tonight,” said Councilwoman Lisa Katz.
“I think the Town Board will do as a whole what we think is right to maintain the public health and the collective safety and welfare of this community,” Deputy Supervisor Jeremy Saland mentioned.
Councilwoman Lauren Levin said for the vast majority of residents the legislation should have little to no impact.
“At the end of the day, if you’re already doing the right thing, this law will not change your life,” Levin said.
Town Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis said exemptions would include anyone under two years old, if there’s a medical reason not to wear a face covering, anyone traveling in a vehicle alone or with members of their household, someone playing a sport and eating or drinking while seated. First responders are also excused if it isn’t feasible to wear a mask of if they are on an emergency call.
A resident can apply for a hardship exemption to Carroll, Ward-Willis said. If denied, the decision can be appealed to the Town Administrator within 10 days.
The law would cease once the public health emergency expires.