HealthThe Putnam Examiner

Odell Declares Putnam Won’t Enforce ‘Unrealistic’ Mask Mandate

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Gov. Kathy Hochul’s statewide mandate that individuals 12 years and older wear masks or show proof of vaccination to enter all public spaces went into effect Monday, but Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell declared Putnam will not be enforcing what she called an “unrealistic” edict.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell

Odell, a Republican, said neither the Putnam County Health Department nor law enforcement officials will step in to admonish anyone who doesn’t follow the Democratic governor’s mandate.

“Our Main Street businesses have followed all the rules, from recommendations and guidelines to shutdowns throughout this pandemic in order to keep the public and their customers safe and healthy,” Odell said. “Now, in the midst of the holiday season, business owners are facing numerous operating issues including supply chain and hiring difficulties. We cannot expect them to implement this unrealistic order.”

Odell said Hochul didn’t consult with any county executives before issuing the mandate that she maintained forces the county to redeploy resources essential in fighting the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s not a wise use of resources, as any County Executive would have pointed out, had they been consulted,” Odell remarked.

“In addition, our Department of Health is a team of health care professionals whose job is to educate and inform residents about the steps necessary to protect themselves. It is not a policing agency.”

“Here in Putnam County, the Health Department is working overtime to vaccinate our residents. Are we really supposed to stop them from running essential vaccine clinics and redirect them to checking whether the unvaccinated are entering buildings unmasked?” she continued. “The department is in the midst of arranging a private-public partnership to create a COVID testing site that will open at the Donald B. Smith campus in Carmel before Christmas and operate six days a week.”

When announcing the action last week, Hochul explained the determination was 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 and is in effect until Jan. 15, 2022, after which state officials will re-evaluate based on current conditions.

“As Governor, my two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy. The temporary measures I am taking today will help accomplish this through the holiday season,” Hochul stated. “We shouldn’t have reached the point where we are confronted with a winter surge, especially with the vaccine at our disposal, and I share many New Yorkers’ frustration that we are not past this pandemic yet.”

“I have warned for weeks that additional steps could be necessary, and now we are at that point based upon three metrics: Increasing cases, reduced hospital capacity, and insufficient vaccination rates in certain areas,” Hochul added.

Since Thanksgiving, Hochul said the statewide seven-day average case rate has increased by 43% and hospitalizations have increased by 29%. While the percentage of New Yorkers fully vaccinated continues to increase—gaining 2% from Thanksgiving weekend to now—the uptick is not fast enough to completely curb the spread of the virus, particularly among communities with low vaccination coverage.

A violation of any provision of the measure is subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. Local health departments are being asked by state officials to enforce these requirements.

“Community spread requires a community-minded solution, as the Omicron variant emerges and the overwhelmingly dominant Delta variant continues to circulate. We have the tools we need to protect against the virus – and now we must ensure we use them,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett stated. “There are tools each individual can use, and there are actions we can take as government. Getting vaccinated protects you, and wearing a mask is how we will better protect each other. Both vaccination and mask-wearing are needed to slow this COVID-19 winter surge.”

Since vaccines for children ages 5 –11 have only been available since November, they only have to have proof of having had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.

Odell is not pleased with Hochul’s mandate.

“County executives throughout the state had hoped that the change in the governor’s office would have led to an improved partnership between the state and its counties,” Odell stated. “Clearly, we are still waiting for that change.”

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