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State will 'get to the bottom' of Southampton enforcement issues, Cuomo says

“The town of Southampton is going to have a problem,” Governor Cuomo said, following apparent breaches of COVID-19 directives at a drive-in concert in Water Mill. Cecilia Dowd has the latest. Credit: Howard Schnapp; Twitter / @NYGovCuomo; Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo; Photo Credit: Mike Groll / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo; Rob Rich; Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

The state will "get to the bottom" of reports of violations of coronavirus mitigation laws in the Village and Town of Southampton beyond a weekend “drive-in” concert in Water Mill that included widely reported flouting of the regulations, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.

“It’s come to our attention that there have been violations in the Village of Southampton," Cuomo said in a conference call Wednesday with reporters. The state Department of Health is investigating with the town supervisor and the village mayor “to find out what is going on. It seems like there are some issues of police enforcement, and we’ll get to the bottom of that.”

“But I think it is important for all supervisors on Long Island to understand the consequences and the stakes of what’s going on here,” he added.

On Tuesday, Cuomo said organizers of the event — headlined by the pop duo The Chainsmokers — and officials could face civil fines and criminal penalties.

Officials in the village and town said Wednesday they will cooperate with the probe and enforcement, though in previous comments the village police chief had raised doubts about whether his department can enforce the laws.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said Wednesday the town police have offered assistance to the Southampton Village Police Department in enforcing COVID-19-related guidelines. Southampton Village Mayor Jesse Warren said the village would welcome any assistance from the town or state.

“I’m optimistic that with the governor’s involvement that we’ll see an increase in enforcement and that our officers will be very proactive in wearing masks,” Warren said Wednesday.

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Village police chief Thomas Cummings previously has said his department did not have the authority to enforce the mask mandate.

“Unfortunately despite what the governor has stated publicly there is no criminal or civil penalty for not wearing a mask in public,” the chief said in a July 13 email to a village resident obtained by Newsday, citing the New York State Police Legal Bureau as well as the governor’s office. “I wish it were otherwise because it would make the police department’s job much simpler.”

On Wednesday, in response to questions from Newsday, he said in an email: "The comment was in response to a particular emailed complaint about people passing each other on a boardwalk at the beach without having masks on. 

"On the date of the complaint, the police department had been advised that a mechanism was not yet in place to take enforcement action under the particular circumstances described in the complaint. 

"After a brief interval of time and since then, the State has made it possible for the police department to take enforcement action when a situation arises that is a violation of the Governor’s Executive Order regarding mask usage in public. 

"In any case, the complaint described something that had happened previously and not activity that was occurring at that moment. The Southampton Village Police Department will take enforcement actions of the Governor’s Executive Order when a violation is observed."

Jonathan Sterne, a spokesman for Cuomo, said orders were issued weeks ago stating that violators of the mask law can be given summonses and fined up to $1,000 for each violation.

Meanwhile, the village will not host its Southampton in the Streets outdoor dining event this weekend, although Warren said he was optimistic the village could bring it back after a review and some changes. Images published in the local newspaper The Independent from the event’s first weekend in June depict a crowd gathered around a fire dancer on Southampton’s Main Street, with many not wearing masks.

As for The Chainsmokers concert, Schneiderman — who performed on drums during the event but has said he left before the crowd formed at the front of the stage — reiterated that the town police department and its code enforcement division are investigating the matter. He declined to comment on the active probe.

“I want to get to the bottom of it, too,” he said Wednesday. “I want to know how that happened in terms of that crowd that was in front of the stage. How was that allowed to form?”

Representatives from In the Know Experiences and Invisible Noise, the concert’s organizer, have not yet responded to town requests to identify those gathered in a VIP section in front of the stage.

Cuomo on Wednesday called for authorities on Long Island to increase enforcement of regulations aimed at keeping COVID-19 under control.

In sparsely populated Central New York, officials have done about a dozen enforcement actions, “which proportionately is probably much higher than anything that has been done on Long Island," he said.

Cuomo said the state, in a crackdown led by troopers and State Liquor Authority agents, found 29 violations of coronavirus mitigation regulations at bars and restaurants Tuesday, including one in Suffolk County.

The COVID-19 infection level in New York State was 1.14% on Tuesday, Cuomo said. Some 715 people out of 62,276 tested were confirmed positive.

The level on Long Island and in New York City was 1.1%. The number of new coronavirus cases confirmed was 41 in Nassau County, 60 in Suffolk County and 302 in New York City.

There were five additional deaths from COVID-19 related causes statewide.

Meanwhile, officials with the New York State Field Band Conference announced that the 2020 competitive marching band season has been canceled due to the pandemic. The season typically kicks off in the fall with training camps launching before school begins. Many Long Island high schools participate in the season that culminates with the state marching band finals in Syracuse.

“We share in the immense disappointment of our performing students, educators, parents and fans,” read a statement from the group issued Tuesday afternoon.

The group is exploring several virtual performance options and will send out additional information about the opportunities in the coming weeks. The group also is “optimistic that individual school districts may be able to safely allow in-person band rehearsals and parent/community performances this fall.”

With Joie Tyrrell and Scott Eidler

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