More than 200 people rallied outside of Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s office in Mineola on Sunday to show support for his opposition to mask mandates, saying they hope he paves the way for other Republican candidates.
Blakeman, who took office earlier this month, signed an executive order — in defiance of the state’s mask mandate — that would allow each school district in the county to decide whether or not students and staff should wear masks to help prevent transmission of COVID-19.
"Bruce Blakeman is sending a message all throughout New York," said Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a gubernatorial hopeful who attended the rally. "There are people in other counties who are watching what Bruce is doing, and they're asking their leadership, ‘Why don't you follow the lead of that courageous new county executive in Nassau County, Bruce Blakeman?’"
While Blakeman has argued that the county has power to issue the executive order under "home rule authority," the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association has said he does not have the legal authority to tell schools not to follow a state mandate requiring masks indoors. Gov. Kathy Hochul has also defended the mask mandate, saying county executives cannot override state law.
Several speakers urged the crowd to press their local school districts into dropping mask mandates and pledged to support candidates who, like Blakeman, will take a stand against mandates.
Blakeman told the crowd he was "humbled" by the show of support.
"But it’s not about me," he said. "It’s about you. It’s about your families, being able to make decisions that are good for your children and your communities … we are not against masks. We are against people who tell us how to run our lives and how to bring up our children.
Blakeman said there was no "science" or "metrics" to show the effectiveness of masks. Zeldin also mocked a public service announcement he said he heard on the radio saying it is no longer recommended to wear cloth masks.
Infectious disease experts have said wearing masks is an effective way to prevent transmission of COVID-19. In recent weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it no longer recommends the use of cloth masks unless a surgical mask is worn underneath. Instead, they are recommending the use of the N95 respirator/mask, which provides a better seal around the nose and mouth area.