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Hochul says opponents to her mask mandate are just seeking 'headlines'

Kevin P. Coughlin
Office of the Governor
Governor Kathy Hochul holds a Covid-19 update in New York City on Tuesday December 14, 2021. During the briefing, Hochul also spoke virtually with New York business owners who have kept their doors open by allowing vaccinated and masked customers in their establishments.

Governor Kathy Hochul defended her statewide mask mandate Tuesday, as fallout from the directive continued with at least one dozen counties in the state refusing to enforce the directive.

Under the policy, businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues must require that all patrons either wear masks, or all customers prove they are fully vaccinated before they can enter.

The plan calls for counties to enforce the mandates. But over the weekend rebellion spread, and by Monday at least 12 counties said they will not be enforcing the mandate. Some county leaders also complained that the new mandate was hastily devised and announced and that three days was not enough time to prepare for the changes.

Hochul defended the mandate rollout, saying she fully informed county leaders in a phone call to the state Association of Counties about the details beginning last Thursday.

“Including a call that to the head of the Association of Counties that I placed myself, who said they support what we are doing,” Hochul said. “And they understand it.”

And she called out county leaders who have publicly opposed the mandates, including Dutchess County executive Marc Molinaro and Nassau County executive elect Bruce Blakeman, saying they are trying to score political points at the expense of public health.

“We have to get a point of rational discussion about this, and it’s not about scoring political points or getting headlines to call out the governor on an issue,” Hochul said. “That doesn’t effect a single thing I do.”

Hochul said the majority of county leaders, who represent 73% of the state’s population, do back the mandates.

The governor also defended her rationale for the new mandate, saying the rapidly rising infection rate is alarming. She said statewide there’s been a 58% increase in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents since Thanksgiving. She said hospitalizations of New Yorkers with COVID who are largely unvaccinated have increased 70% since November 25. She said she’s trying to keep the numbers from escalating so high that economic shutdowns become necessary.

Hochul was joined by selected local leaders and business owners who back the mandate, including the mayor of Oswego, Billy Barlow, in central New York. He said the hospitals in his region are close to capacity.

“The mask mandate does strike a fair balance,” Barlow said. “Between protecting our citizens and allowing business to safely stay open and operate successfully.”

32 hospitals across upstate are currently restricted by the state health department from performing elective surgeries because their bed capacity is less than 10%.

The governor spoke on the one year anniversary of the first New Yorker, and the first American, to receive the vaccine. Sandra Lindsay, a nurse and the critical care director at Long Island Jewish Medical Center received her first dose on national television.

Hochul said if more New Yorkers had followed Lindsay’s actions and received their shots, she would not have to impose any new mandates to fight the spread of the virus. One year later, just over 70% of state residents are fully vaccinated despite the vaccine being widely available for the past several months.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.