Responsibility to enforce reopening guidelines falls under local jurisdiction, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.
“That’s going to be up to the local health department to enforce,” Cuomo said. “They’ll have to enforce those rules, both who should be open and should not be open and as well as are they in compliance with the conditions of reopening. That has to be enforced at the local level. That’s the law. They just have to enforce the law.”
Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb said it is up to local law enforcement.
“The health department doesn’t have any authority in terms of enforcing the governor’s order,” Mabb said. “The sheriff was designated as the individual who would oversee any complaints along those lines.”
“Just because we hit May 15, the latest deadline set by the state’s NY ON PAUSE plan, it does not mean that businesses can simply open their doors and resume business as usual,” said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell on Monday.
Despite the executive orders, ClubLife Health and Fitness in Valatie reopened Monday.
But in an example this week of local enforcement, ClubLife was issued a cease-and-desist order from the Town of Kinderhook.
“While the Town of Kinderhook sought to work with this business owner to secure voluntary compliance with the law, ClubLife refused to follow the clear mandates set forth in the executive orders,” said Kinderhook Town Supervisor Patsy Leader.
A Kinderhook code enforcement officer Tuesday issued the cease-and-desist order to close the business and the owner was issued an appearance ticket.
ClubLife owner Alex Rosenstrach declined to comment on the situation. The Columbia County Sheriff’s Department failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.
Should additional violations occur, Leader said the town will call upon state and local authorities to carry out their legal responsibility to remove any individuals within the facility, adding that any individual found within the facility will be subject to a fine up to $1,000.
Mabb said in the event a business reopened ahead of schedule, if there is no response to a code enforcement officer’s order, law enforcement is the next step.
“It could be any law enforcement officer who has jurisdiction over the area,” Mabb said. “It could be sheriffs, it could be the state police.”
Troop K did not receive any complaints of ClubLife reopening, state police Public Information Officer Aaron Hicks said.
Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett has been “all over” the ClubLife opening and was on the scene, Mabb said.
Kinderhook is addressing these new challenges with businesses in a methodical and compassionate manner, Leader said.
“It remains my sincere hope that this dark period in our history will soon pass, and that ClubLife and all other businesses in our community can reopen,” Leader said. “Until such time, the rule of law must be respected.”
Mabb, who under normal circumstances works out five or six days a week at the gym, said if his gym decided to reopen now, he would not go.
“That’s why gyms are at the last stage of opening, because they are incredibly difficult, or impossible, to maintain social distance and not be potenitially exposed to the virus,” Mabb said. “I think it’s really ill-founded for him to be opening at this time.”
Leader said she has been extremely proud of the manner in which town residents have banded together to provide care for vulnerable populations, adhered to social distancing directives and supported local businesses.
Hudson Police Chief L. Edward Moore provided guidance on what would happen if a business in Hudson decided to reopen ahead of schedule.
The city’s code enforcement officers have the authority to issue summonses to businesses not complying with the executive orders or public health law.
“The public can make complaints regarding operations of nonessential businesses or gatherings on the hotline that [New York state] has established,” Moore said. “The sheriff manages complaints collected within the county.”
Moore said in Hudson, foot and bicycle patrols have increased the police department’s visibility as a way of encouraging social-distancing guidelines.
At this time, Hudson police have made no arrests for failing to comply with the executive orders, Moore said.
The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York spoke on behalf of businesses that are calling for liability protections during the COVID-19 crisis.
In testimony to the New York Senate Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committee, Alliance Executive Director Tom Stebbins supported liability protections for businesses for the remainder of the crisis.
Businesses that act in good faith and are not grossly negligent should not face further economic hardships due to the lack of access to proper supplies, as outlined by the CDC, Stebbins said.
“These simple protections will provide businesses across the state with immeasurable piece of mind,” Stebbins said. “Win or lose, a single lawsuit can devastate a small business. Hundreds of lawsuits have already been filed in relation to the COVID outbreak and many more are sure to come. Lawyers are already advertising aggressively for COVID lawsuits. We must enact these protections now, before it is too late.”
Abby Hoover is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.