Dutchess, Putnam Will Not Enforce Mask Mandate

Serino also criticizes state order as COVID-19 cases rise

The executives for Dutchess and Putnam say they will not enforce the state’s new indoor mask mandate for businesses as both counties face a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths that has been worsening since August.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, a Republican, issued a statement on Monday (Dec. 13), the first day businesses and venues had to require masks indoors for staff and patrons unless they verify that everyone entering is fully vaccinated. The state is directing local health departments to enforce the order, which includes fines of up to $1,000 for each violation a business incurs.

Odell said businesses cannot be expected “to implement this unrealistic order” and that Putnam’s Health Department is “working overtime” to vaccinate residents while preparing to open a six-day-a-week testing center at the county’s office complex in Carmel before Christmas. The department is not a “policing agency,” she said.

“Are we really supposed to stop them from running essential vaccine clinics and redirect them to checking whether the unvaccinated are entering buildings unmasked?” said Odell.

Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, said in a Facebook post on Sunday (Dec. 12) that the requirement is “unenforceable” and “will become confrontational.” The county will not “escalate tension or conflict or further burden our local small businesses,” said Molinaro, who is running for the U.S. House seat held by Democrat Antonio Delgado.

His position was reiterated in an email sent Monday by Colleen Pillus, a representative for the county. It said that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration, which announced the mandate on Dec. 10, “acknowledged” that local health departments are not expected to redeploy staff “from critical responsibilities” like vaccinating residents.

The state also “indicated” that counties should focus on “education only for a minimum of two weeks” to foster compliance with the mask requirement, said Andrew Sherman Evans Jr., Dutchess County’s director of public health and disease prevention.

“Beyond this period, Dutchess County has been advised against and will not divert critical health department resources away from other activities for the purpose of enforcement,” Evans said in the email.

The New Mandate

On Monday (Dec. 13), the state issued more-detailed guidance for its new mask mandate. The order will be re-evaluated on Jan. 15.

The mandate covers: 

Businesses and venues, including indoor entertainment venues, concert halls, indoor sports stadiums, recreational spaces, restaurants, office buildings, shopping centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, houses of worship and common areas in residential buildings.

The state is requiring that:

Any person over 2 years old, and medically able to tolerate a face covering, must wear a mask indoors at public places, regardless of vaccination status. Businesses and venues can choose to implement a vaccination requirement, requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. Whichever requirement is selected, it must apply to all, including staff, patrons, visitors and guests. A business and venue cannot do a “combination” requirement.

If a business opts to verify vaccination:

They must ensure that anyone 12 years of age or older is fully vaccinated before entering. (Fully vaccinated is defined as 14 days past the second shot of a two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine; and 14 days past the one-shot Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccine.) Children between ages 5 and 11 years old, who just became eligible last month for the Pfizer vaccine, only need proof of their initial shot.

If food or beverages are served:

Patrons can remove their masks only while they are actively eating or drinking, at which time appropriate social-distancing measures, proper air ventilation and filtration methods are highly recommended. Masks should be worn at all other times.

The mandate reverses the state’s adoption, in May, of relaxed mask guidelines after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in public.

Those guidelines, instituted as COVID-19 cases were waning, still required unvaccinated people to wear masks in public; allowed businesses to mandate that customers wear face coverings; and kept masks in place at K-12 schools, homeless shelters, prisons, nursing homes and health care settings, and on public transit such as Metro-North.

Seven months later, the state is experiencing another wave of infections, which began in August, driven by the Delta variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.

New York reported 18,000 new cases on Wednesday (Dec. 15), nearly nine times the 2,143 from Aug. 1. Although upstate counties are seeing the most infections, cases have also increased significantly in Dutchess, Putnam and other Mid-Hudson counties as the cold weather drives people indoors.

Dutchess County’s 231 cases on Wednesday was its highest one-day total since Jan. 11, and Putnam County’s 84 cases on Dec. 10 its highest tally since Jan. 23.

As of Wednesday, Dutchess was averaging 150 cases a day in December, compared to 13 in July, and Putnam 54 versus 4.4 in July.

As of Monday, 72 percent of residents in Dutchess and 77 percent in Putnam had received at least one vaccine dose.

Despite the rising caseloads, state Sen. Sue Serino joined Molinaro and Odell in criticizing the mask mandate. A Republican whose district includes the Highlands, Serino said on Dec. 10 that Hochul’s decision “blindsided” businesses and requires them “to police the behavior of their customers or face arbitrary fines.”

“Our small businesses are just starting to get back on their feet, and this mandate will be detrimental to all those who were looking toward the holiday season to help keep their doors open,” she said.

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21 thoughts on “Dutchess, Putnam Will Not Enforce Mask Mandate

  1. No shirt, no shoes, no service…no problem. No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service… Oh my God, the sky is falling! This is the logic of Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell.

    Store management and employees routinely refuse to serve those not wearing a shirt or shoes – and post signs saying so. We’ve all seen the signs. Nobody gets bent out of shape. In the face of the most highly contagious variant of the COVID virus (Omicron), with infections on a fast rise, Gov. Hochul has wisely called for a statewide mask wearing mandate in all indoor public places.

    Obviously this is aspirational. Obviously there will be no “enforcers” in each and every indoor public space. The governor is sending the responsible message that this is what we must do to stay safe. With well over 800,000 dead, over 1,100 a day dying, and with over 100,000 new infections per day nationwide it is incumbent upon government to do the responsible thing and call for greater safety.

    This is what the governor has done. If everyone were vaccinated the virus would be rendered of little consequence and we could be rid of this and get back to building our economy. Since we have vaccine “refuseniks” we have no choice but to all wear masks to protect our society and economy. This is the wise course. Unfortunately we have some “chicken littles” like County Executive Odell who – for political reasons – assumes a posture that appeals to the fuzzy thought of ill-informed people. It appears she feels she must pander to this base.

    In dealing with the pandemic, Trump exploited a certain infantilism residing in the American psyche for his own political ends – much to the detriment of the nation. This “Trumpism” has trickled down to the local level in the behavior of the county executive. A cynical ploy by an overpaid public servant. Starting Jan. 1 she’ll be paid $170,070, a 2.4 percent pay raise. She’ll give herself a raise but can’t bring herself to call for greater public health safety. Odell takes care of herself very nicely. I can put on and take off a mask faster than my shoes or shirt. It’s not difficult, it’s not a big deal. Unless of course, County Executive Odell wants to make it big deal for her own political ends.

  2. We read “Dutchess, Putnam Will Not Enforce Mask Mandate” and “Putnam Legislators: Mandates ‘Totalitarian’ and ‘Travesty’” with great disappointment. However, it came as no surprise that some leaders of Dutchess and Putnam counties have sided with the virus over the safety and well-being of their constituents. Their arguments that it would divert resources from vaccination and testing efforts is implausible since both counties are clearly able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

    Even more ridiculous is their claim that mask and vaccine mandates would impose onerous burdens on small businesses. We believe businesses — particularly bars and restaurants — requiring masks and proof of vaccine would make customers more comfortable patronizing them. For every customer who does not go to a business because it is complying with the New York State mandate, there will probably be at least two who do. The overall issue is more than 800,000 Americans have been killed by the COVID-19 virus so far, and measures such as mask and vaccine mandates are not “totalitarian,” they save lives. Why are these “leaders” against that?

  3. “It’s about saving lives.”

    I am so grateful that we have at least one voice of reason in the Putnam Legislature in Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown.

    Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida had said that lockdowns and mask mandates in Australia were because of its communistic authoritarian government. That description came as a surprise to me, being Australian.

    Florida and Australia have similar populations, although Floridians on average are a bit older (42 years) than Australians (37 years) and so more susceptible to COVID-19. In this pandemic there have been 2,164 deaths in Australia, and 62,264 in Florida.

    Much of the discussion has been about the right to choose. The discussion should be about how do we save lives. Is your right not to be vaccinated or not to wear a mask more important than my right not to catch COVID-19 by going to the store?

    The scientific evidence is clear-cut; lives can be saved and we can return to normal more quickly by adopting simple and easy behaviors. There is no risk from wearing a mask in public. Vaccinations are safer than flying on a commercial airline.

    I would ask legislators to consult with medical experts and perform their duties and obligations to ensure the health and safety of our civilization.

  4. Politicizing a global health emergency just may be the height of ignorance and misguidance. In ignoring the mask mandate, the executives of Putnam and Dutchess County should be ashamed of themselves. As yet another surge of infection is taking place, and a new viral variant is reeking havoc in this country and around the globe, MaryEllen Odell has the audacity to call the wearing of masks “unrealistic.” It’s almost beyond belief. Since she and her two co-conspirators seem unable, I will say that I am embarrassed for them.

  5. As a career Carmel educator, I was buoyed by the wonderful Carmel High School varsity football team State Championship. A first-time achievement for our county and the result of a group of young people dedicating themselves to mutual respect, sacrifice, courtesy, caring and a number of other emotional declarations that build a foundation for much of our society.

    At the same time, concurrently, I am dismayed by the societal disregard displayed by the Putnam County executive MaryEllen Odell in her dismissal of our state Governor’s issue of a mask mandate in the face of the exploding COVID virus variants. The governor is the coach and Ms. Odell does not want to follow the coach’s edict. Do you think the CHS football team would have had such success with this type of attitude? The Carmel High School team reached the pinnacle by cooperation, hard work and dedication. Ms. Odell is playing pure politics, taking her cues from the distorted Republican playbook. She cites business concerns, so profits-over-county fits in nicely with party-over-county which has been the guiding light for the county’s governmental leadership.

    We currently exist in a distorted reality of where politics takes over from common decency for each other, caring for your fellow individual. The Carmel football team would not have had such amazing success with this perspective and it is a lesson that these young people are teaching us, stupid as we are, to learn and help conquer this pandemic that has dictated our lives for the past two years. If we follow the lead of the partisan Putnam governmental leadership, we will be dealing with the COVID crisis for a long time. Too long. Wake up, Putnam County and follow the lead of the young people who know how to work together and without the absurd prejudices that we, as adults, have adopted as our life style.

  6. Wearing a mask is not my personal choice, it is a choice for the community. I do not feel limited in my freedom when I wear a mask; I feel that it is the least I can do to keep my fellow community members safe. It is, however, an expression of my personal freedom to prefer shops that enforce a mask mandate for my holiday shopping.

  7. People have realized the folly of their personal choice when on a ventilator, lung flooded and gasping for breath. A friend’s brother is in just such a state, begging for a miracle.

  8. People have a choice. If you chose to be vaccinated, we were told we would no longer need to worry about getting a severe reaction to COVID. With that said, those that are vaccinated should NOT be required to mask up against some political mandate. Personally, I choose to be vaccinated and further choose to not wear a mask. If a person is worried (vaccinated or not) wear a mask, wear a hazmat suit or whatever you want, but leave the choice to the individual.

    Many will say the scientist says a mask is critical. Bet you can find just as many scientists who say a mask does protect. It’s basically taking some data and giving an opinion. So stop forcing people to do silly things against their beliefs. If you believe a mask is so important in your protection and blocks the virus, why are you so worried that me not wearing a mask will effect you? It works or it doesn’t.

  9. These county executives represent an ignorant and tribalistic minority of the populations of these counties. Their refusal to implement critical state-mandated public health measures in the midst of a health crisis is disgraceful, and will lead to far more illness and death. It is grounds for their removal from office.

  10. The county executive is willing to put the lives of children and seniors at risk just so she can stay on Team Trump’s Christmas card list? Shameful.

  11. Their response is such a joke. Thank goodness these elected officials weren’t alive during World War II rationing efforts — can you imagine the tantrums if they had to give up sugar for the greater good? Our Putnam County business has been enforcing masks since we reopened our doors. It’s not a hardship. It’s protecting our staff and our community.

    I wish The Current would have talked to some small business owners to get our perspective. I doubt the county executives or Sue Serino got many perspectives before claiming to care about the effects on small businesses. Guess what hurts small businesses the most? Our staff and our customers getting COVID. After over a year and half of wearing masks I wish people would stop whining and learn to be as mature as our 2-year-old, who wears her mask in stores, and knows she needs to go outside when she’s ready to take it off.

  12. I was dismayed to see that our county executive has refused to protect all of us residents of Putnam County with her decision to not enforce the mask mandate to prevent the spread of COVID in public places.

    Testing shows that the chance of spread goes down a lot if an infected person is masked. If an unmasked, unvaxed infected person shares an indoor space with people who are masked and vaxed, the infection can spread.

    So this is not a case where each of us can make a personal choice. The infected, unvaccinated person who decided to go maskless is making a decision for the community. People who do not want to be infected have no way to be safe now as there is no way to prevent infected unmasked people from showing up.

    I was looking forward to shopping in Putnam for holiday gifts and personal necessities once the mask mandate was enforced. If that’s not happening, I will have to continue going to Westchester and avoiding places in Putnam.

  13. So, in order to get the approval of Trump and Fox News and a relatively small number of people who refuse to get vaccinated, the Legislature is happily throwing the rest of us, who care enough about our families and our community to protect them by getting vaccinated and wearing masks, under the bus. They apparently don’t care that we ALL pay for the illness and deaths of those who get COVID because they wouldn’t take care of themselves, and they also don’t care that the hospitals are overloaded and health care workers are at the end of their rope. All just so they can be seen giving the finger to a Democratic governor. How disgustingly petty. I wish them a miserable holiday and a very uncomfortable new year.

  14. The NFL, NBA, NHL players have been hit with COVID, causing them to cancel games because they don’t have enough players. Cornell University has moved all final exams online and cancelled university events due to the rapid spread of COVID. And here, in our own county, Carmel Central School District has decided to
    close the high school and go to remote learning for the rest of 2021.

    COVID figures are rising in all the states. MaryEllen Odell, our county executive, has chosen this time to announce that Putnam County will not enforce the mask mandate that Gov. Hochul recently put in place. Not that it matters that much that Odell and the Legislature passed the resolution. Everywhere I go people are masked up. They don’t want to take a chance they will get COVID-19.

    Odell announced that the Health Department is arranging a private-public partnership to create a COVID testing site in Carmel that will be open six days a week. They understand the gravity of the situation. Why, then, pass a resolution that opposes their own state government, does not help county residents deal with this deadly crisis, and will obviously be ignored? The Legislature argues that the government does not have the right to order people to wear masks. This is empty political grandstanding -– this does not save lives!

  15. In a society that has gone too far with censorship, it no longer feels free and truthful to a large part of the population. It is a relief to have officials speaking for the whole as opposed to the believers of the untrustworthy television news. As an adult, I will decide for myself. It has felt like a police state for far too long. [via Instagram]

  16. Thanks to (most) Putnam legislators for actually believing that adults who live in the county can listen to the science and make a common-sense decision for themselves and their children without the nanny state interfering. [via Facebook]

  17. This is just a case of Molinaro using our lives to campaign for Congress. First it was the financial future of the county with his endless promises since announcing his run, and now this. How does a man who lost his own father to COVID-19 not want to protect other people from experiencing that tragedy? [via Facebook]

  18. No one is opposing the mask mandate. They just won’t enforce it because they can’t. Putnam wants to set up additional testing sites so people can get tested before gathering for the holidays. They aren’t going to use those resources to see if they can catch someone not wearing a mask! Let the state police the businesses. [via Facebook]

  19. Wearing a mask isn’t being outlawed. Putnam has done quite an excellent job on getting vaccine and booster clinics set up and letting the public know about them. Maybe if the governor feels so strongly about her mandate, she should direct state resources to enforce it. Or perhaps our state Legislature could pass a law. [via Facebook]

  20. Un. Real. It’s easy to check vaccination status — been to New York City lately? It’s ubiquitous — and it’s also one of the only ways we’ll get through this pandemic without further major loss of life. Let’s make sure none of these people gets re-elected. [via Instagram]