Putnam Legislators: Mandates ‘Totalitarian’ and ‘Travesty’

Montgomery calls their position ‘anti-science’

The three-member Putnam County Legislature Health Committee on Monday (Dec. 13) unanimously adopted a resolution denouncing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, clearing it for ratification by the full nine-member panel next week.

Committee members used terms such as “totalitarian” and “travesty” to refer to mandates and asserted their stance reflected a “pro-choice” position.

Three other legislators at the meeting voiced their support, as did most audience members who offered an opinion. The entire Legislature next meets on Wednesday (Dec. 22) for its year-end meeting, when it can approve the resolution.

The measure declares “that medical treatment and preventative measures are an individual choice” and that “no COVID-19 vaccine should be mandated by law.” It also opposes vaccine mandates “that affect parents’ rights to make health care decisions in the best interests of their children.”

The resolution encourages people to get vaccinated but that, if they do not, to follow guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid infection.

Legislator Nancy Montgomery, a Democrat who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley, objected to the resolution, describing her Republican colleagues as “anti-science” and “anti-safety for the citizens of Putnam County.”

The resolution came amid a rise in infections, statewide and locally, that prompted New York State to mandate masks in indoor public spaces and directed county health departments to oversee enforcement. The county executives of Putnam and Dutchess counties, both Republicans, promptly announced they would not comply (see Page 1).

Montgomery noted that infections in Putnam have recently increased dramatically and that, as of Monday, six inmates and four officers at the county jail had tested positive.

Under policies instituted by outgoing Sheriff Robert Langley Jr., which placed staff on leave for testing after a suspected exposure, no one got sick but in September county officials abandoned that approach and the virus took hold “because someone was afraid to take leave,” Montgomery said. This “is not a good time to relax restrictions.”

Legislator Amy Sayegh of Mahopac, who chairs the Health Committee, claimed Montgomery “is pro-mask mandates. She’s pro-forced-adult-vaccine mandates” and Montgomery concurred that “I am for masks, for vaccinations. I’m looking to avoid another shutdown, another disaster.”

Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, the county health commissioner, did not attend the meeting. When Montgomery asked if the committee members consulted him about the resolution, Sayegh replied that Nesheiwat “is paid to make sure the state mandates are enforced, so he doesn’t have a say in this argument. This is a legislative argument.”

“We’re not here to rely on that professional opinion,” echoed Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson, another committee member. “We’re here to put forth a resolution.”

Nesheiwat did not respond to a request for comment.

“Totalitarianism” subjects citizens “to absolute state authority” and with mandatory vaccines “we’re talking about state authority over our children’s health. That’s unacceptable,” Sayegh said. “No child or adult should be held down by a government bureaucrat and injected with a vaccine they do not wish to receive, or suffer the consequences,” such as being kept out of school, church, restaurants or stores.

Dear Dr. Nesheiwat…

On Thursday (Dec. 16), Legislator Nancy Montgomery emailed Dr. Michael Nesheiwat, the Putnam County health commissioner, saying she had left a message on his emergency line about a “re-occurring public health emergency in Room 318 of the County Office Building,” where the legislative committees meet.

She noted that “members of the Legislature, the sheriff-elect, members of his staff, with a known exposure to COVID [at the jail], as well as members of the public, are not complying with the mask mandate.”

She added: “No vaccination records are being checked and no masks are required to attend these very crowded meetings. In addition to the violation of state law, the county has not taken any measure to ensure that Room 318 is a safe place to hold public meetings. No efforts have been taken to improve ventilation, install COVID preventative filtration or air-quality mechanisms.

“I have requested that the Legislature continue to offer an option to attend meetings virtually, but my colleagues dismissed this request. I would very much appreciate your help in ensuring that I am provided with a safe place to work and that my constituents are provided with a safe place to participate in government.”

Legislator Toni Addonizio of Kent, the third member of the Health Committee, criticized two bills pending in the state Legislature. The first, introduced in the Assembly, would require students to be vaccinated to attend school and links district participation to state aid. The second bill, in the Senate, would permit schools to vaccinate students age 14 and older if the student gave consent.

That a school could vaccinate a teenager without parental permission “is frightening,” said Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast. “I’m certainly going to support this resolution.”

Legislators Carl Albano of Carmel and Neal Sullivan of Carmel-Mahopac, other non-committee members, also backed the measure.

“We’re just talking about the choice for parents and individuals to decide for themselves,” said Nacerino. “We don’t need government telling us what to do. That’s a travesty.”

“No one is saying we are anti-vaccine,” Addonizio contended. “We are pro-choice.”

Montgomery pointed out that the legislators rejected pro-choice views when they passed an anti-abortion resolution in spring 2019.

Committee members said opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates does not mean they want to abolish requirements that children receive vaccinations against other diseases such as measles.

“It’s something the state has already decided, so I don’t think that’s something we can go back on,” Sayegh said.

Robert Tendy, who said he spoke as a resident, not as the Putnam County district attorney, remarked that “the vaccines children took to get into school were tested and tested for years,” whereas the COVID-19 vaccine “is a brand-new product.” He said that “the government I know — or knew” doesn’t compel vaccinations.

During the public comment period, Steve Salomone, who lives in Brewster, supported the resolution. “It’s outrageous how far the government overreach has taken us. They’ve done it through fear.”

Phyllis Hoenig of Mahopac, who opposed the resolution, recalled the recent past, when “the hospitals were filled” and “we went through a terrible time. People were dying; they were stacking them up in trailers outside. Did you forget that?”

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3 thoughts on “Putnam Legislators: Mandates ‘Totalitarian’ and ‘Travesty’

  1. I am opposed to the resolution before the legislature entitled Approval/Opposing Government-Mandated COVID-19 Vaccination. As a public health professional and volunteer with the Putnam County Medical Reserve Corps who spent dozens of hours volunteering last year to vaccinate our county’s residents, this action from the legislature is extremely disappointing.

    Resolutions like this one undermine the hard work of the Putnam County Health Department, countless MRC volunteers and all of the health care providers in our county who have been working selflessly and tirelessly to prevent the spread of COVID-19, treat the sick and minimize deaths.

    People are burdening our healthcare system and dying needlessly because they are not vaccinated. The Putnam County executive and Legislature have the power to prevent some of these deaths by encouraging vaccination and depoliticizing it. Sadly they have chosen to do the opposite.

  2. People should have the right to determine whether they or their children should be vaccinated. However, there also must be consequences.

    If you decide not to get vaccinated, your insurance rates should be raised significantly because your choice, when you get infected, will likely land you in the hospital, thus taxing the health care system.

    Another consequence should be your child cannot attend school. The measles-mumps-rubella vaccine is required to attend school. This is no different. The argument that this came about too quickly is inaccurate as this vaccine has been being developed for well over 20 years. Even a pet must be vaccinated before it is allowed to associate with other pets.

    Another consequence is that you cannot enter a workplace. Why should you be allowed, by your choice, to infect others at work who chose to get the vaccine? We do not allow people to smoke in public any longer because of secondhand smoke. The same applies here. The only way to be released from this continuing cycle is for the majority of the people of our country to get vaccinated — herd immunity — so the virus has no more hosts in which to grow and spread and change. Please turn away from all of the disinformation, fear and lies so that one day soon we can all take off our masks and smile at one another again.

  3. Today, 1 in 500 Americans lost. The detailed impact of one of the first big recorded pandemics is terrifying to consider. It slashed through the country killing rich and poor alike. No one knew why it was happening or how to fight it.

    Who rules, who plows? Who inherits? What of abandoned children? Who buries the dead? Where is God? Is there a politics in death? Terrifying — no other word for it.

    So one is led to wonder at the resistance of anyone who passes on the opportunity for protection. The arrogance of ignorance.

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