CATSKILL — Greene County will not devote resources to enforce the state’s new mask mandate for businesses, while the county Office Building began requiring all visitors to be masked beginning Dec. 13.
Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said Monday it was his call that Greene County Public Health would not use its time enforcing the state’s new regulation that all businesses must require masks or proof of vaccination to enter their premises.
“It was my decision and I advised the board and I’ve yet to hear any disagreement with it,” Groden said. “There are certainly manpower issues. How many businesses are there in the county? What are we going to do? Put someone at the door of Walmart for every minute of every day? It’s unenforceable. It’s ridiculous.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday announced that fines of up to $1,000 per violation could be issued for each breach of the mask mandate. County health departments are being asked by the state to enforce the mask requirements.
“Each business is going to have to police themselves,” Groden said. “They’ll have to provide whatever necessary requirements there are to meet the mandates. I am not sending health care workers or sheriff’s deputies or anybody to a business to ensure compliance.”
Groden said he spoke to Greene County Sheriff Pete Kusminsky about the mandate and that they agreed enforcing the new regulations in Greene would be impractical.
“I usually talk to the sheriff daily about a number of things and we kind of laughed together about how impossible it would be to enforce this,” Groden said. “It’s impossible, so we’re not even going to try.”
Starting Monday, all visitors to county office buildings will be required to wear face coverings.
“We have a couple of departments that have the public in and out on a regular basis, like the Department of Social Services and the Department of Motor Vehicles,” Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said. “The directors in those departments had requested the ability to do that, and we did allow that for them. We are a public business in the county office building, so we are subject to the same mandate.”
The state’s mask mandate lasts through Jan. 15, when it will be revisited.
“I don’t know if this mandate was really thought out,” Linger said. “But that being said, it’s a Department of Health regulation now, and it’s enforceable. But our public health department simply does not have the resources to go out to these businesses to check up on them.”
Linger said there was no point in the pandemic where the county was actively seeking to enforce mask mandates, but citizens could file complaints that would be investigated by the sheriff’s department.
“I wouldn’t say it was being enforced, but there were a couple of avenues,” he said. “People could call and complain to our public health department or the sheriff’s department, but there was also a hotline through the state where people could put complaints in. Then the state would sort through them and break them out by county. Then they’d send the complaints to the county sheriff. Then the sheriff’s department would follow up.”
New York Association of Counties Deputy Director Mark LaVigne said each of the 62 counties have struggled to brave different sets of difficulties over the last 21 months.
“The counties have had their plates full — they have been on the front line of this pandemic since March,” LaVigne said. “Our local public health officials have been working around the clock for nearly two years to protect New Yorkers. They do not have the capacity for the most part to enforce this new state mandate.”
The association is not reprimanding counties for pushing back against the mandate.
“We believe counties will do what’s in the best interest of residents,” he said. “Our local public health departments are understaffed and fatigued after fighting this pandemic for nearly the past two years, so it’s a challenge for all of us. This is going to end up in the court of public opinion, and we hope the opinion is one of mutual respect to help curb the spread of COVID-19.”
Groden said the county is still encouraging residents to get vaccinated and mask up even if they won’t send out workers to enforce the new law.
“If you’re not vaccinated, for your own protection, you should mask up,” he said. “That’s just common sense. But we’re not becoming the mask police.”
County employees will be required to wear masks under certain circumstances while in county buildings, while members of the public will be required to wear them at all times.
“If you’re an employee, you have to mask up when you traverse the building,” Groden said. “But if you have a work station that allows you to be separate, you can take the mask off. But if you go to the restroom or have to go in the hallway, you have to mask up. If you’re a member of the public that’s coming into the building to go to the DMV or wherever, you are required to wear a mask.”