Local businesses enforce new mandate
Jenny Zuko has had to remind several customers entering Zakko Joy, her gift shop at 177 Main St. in Beacon, about a new state-ordered mask requirement and watch them leave after telling her the mandate “isn’t real.”
She’s also had three customers call to request deliveries to their homes because they have COVID-19.
“We’re just asking everybody to wear a mask,” Zukko said on Tuesday (Dec. 21). “People have been generally great.”
Thursday marked 10 days since businesses and venues, under a state order that took effect on Dec. 13, had to begin ensuring that staff and customers wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, or verify that everyone is fully vaccinated.
While the order, which will be re-evaluated on Jan. 15, is a response to a wave of infections and hospitalizations that is projected to worsen, it has drawn criticism from Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Putnam Executive MaryEllen Odell, both Republicans, who said their health departments would not enforce the order. Violations carry fines of up to $1,000.
In a statement issued Dec. 12, 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. 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?” asked Odell.
Molinaro wrote in a Facebook post on 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.”
Their opposition has not deterred many local business owners and municipalities, including in Beacon, whose total of 97 cases as of Sunday (Dec. 19) was nearly four times higher than Nov. 3. Story Screen Beacon Theater and its adjacent Wonderbar now require proof of vaccination, as do Dogwood and the Towne Crier.
Members of Beahive, who pay a monthly fee for access to coworking spaces and private offices at 291 Main St., had already been providing their vaccination status in order to work without masks, said owner Scott Tillitt. With the state’s order, people who want a day pass will also have to show proof of vaccination, he said.
“Some members expressed concern about having to wear a mask all day, even while seated at their desks,” said Tillitt. “That’s why we made that decision.”
Beacon’s government is not only mandating masks for employees and visitors to its buildings but turned several office suites into “vaccine-mandate areas,” said City Administrator Chris White. Staff and visitors who want to use the areas must prove they are vaccinated, he said.
Before Gov. Kathy Hochul’s order, Yali Lewis had already reinstated a mask mandate for shoppers entering Lewis & Pine, her jewelry and skin-care products shop at 133 Main St. The decision, said Lewis, was driven by the emergence of the fast-charging and highly transmissible Omicron variant. The strain has replaced the Delta variant as the primary source of infections.
Some customers have been “thanking us for doing it because they feel more comfortable coming in,” said Lewis. “Seems like this is a moment for everybody to do their part.”
Lindsay Jean Fastiggi, the owner of Spice Revolution in Cold Spring, does not allow customers to enter her shop without masks. “The confrontation and stress is on me and my workers in trying to keep a safe and healthy space for people and children to shop,” she wrote this week on Instagram.“That’s not helpful. If it’s mandated, it should be enforced or it’s pointless.
“If you’ve ever seen or heard a mask confrontation in a shop, you know it’s painful,” she wrote. “I do not want that pain, stress and anxiety for anyone who works here or for my customers.”
With New York setting, for the third straight day, a pandemic-high for new infections, Hochul said on Monday (Dec. 20) that the state is allowing counties that enforce the mandate to apply for funding to cover costs of staffing and administering vaccines. Most counties will receive up to $1 million, and larger ones up to $2 million, from a $65 million pool, said Hochul, who is a Democrat.
Nancy Montgomery, a Democrat who represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley on the Putnam County Legislature, cited that funding in a memo she sent on Tuesday to Odell. She asked the county executive to retract her statement opposing the mask mandate and replace it with one promising to enforce the order.
“Will you remove the previous press release from the website and replace it with a statement that you will now be enforcing the mask mandate?” Montgomery asked. “Will county efforts now turn to distribution of at-home test kits, amping up testing and vaccine distribution?”