Governor Kathy Hochul said it will be up to the indivdual counties to enforce the mask mandate or requiring patrons and employees to show proof of vaccination in all public places. Credit: NY Governor's Office

Incoming Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said Monday he will not enforce a new state mandate requiring masks or vaccines for indoor public places, as Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state will not compel counties to enforce the order aimed at slowing the rapid spread of COVID-19.

A spokeswoman for the current Nassau executive, Laura Curran, said she "will not be actively enforcing" the mandate in her final weeks, but officials will respond to complaints about violations.

And in Suffolk, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone said there will be enforcement of the mandate, though focused mainly on "education" of local businesses.

It was a day of confusion as the mandate rolled out, nearly two years into the pandemic. Some leaders said they would not follow the order, while others said they would — at least partially — and Hochul indicated she will not seek a confrontation with those who oppose it.

What to know

  • Incoming Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said Monday he will not enforce a new state mandate requiring masks or vaccines for indoor public places.
  • A spokeswoman for the current Nassau executive, Laura Curran, said she "will not be actively enforcing" the mandate in her final weeks, but officials will respond to complaints about violations.
  • Suffolk County will do some enforcement of the mandate, though focused mainly on "education," according to a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone.

It remained unclear Monday how effective the mandate will be if some counties opt out and are not compelled to enforce it. On Long Island itself, there seemed to be a split approach.

A spokesman for Blakeman said he would not enforce the mandate once he takes office on Jan. 1, and will not send out health department inspectors to fine places that are not complying with it.

Blakeman joins several upstate county leaders who said they are refusing to enforce the order.

"Come January 1st, my administration will move Nassau forward with a common sense approach that acknowledges the facts, science and progress made by our residents while also protecting businesses and jobs from any further damage created by government mandates," Blakeman said in a statement.

"Nassau County is not in crisis, and should not be painted with the same broad brush as the rest of the state. 97% of adults in Nassau County have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, and Nassau hospitals have adequate capacity to handle existing demand," he said.

A spokeswoman for Curran said Nassau's "health department will respond to complaints but the county is not actively enforcing" the mandate.

The mandate, announced Friday by Hochul, went into effect on Monday and lasts through at least Jan. 15.

When asked Monday if Suffolk planned to enforce the mandate, Bellone spokesman Derek Poppe said: "Yes. As we have done in the past, our enforcement will be, first and foremost, centered around educating local businesses and residents about the latest information and guidance."

Hochul confident in counties' cooperation

Hochul said Monday she believes most regions will cooperate.

"We have left this to the counties to enforce," she said. "We hope that counties will enforce it. We expect that they will. We hope that they will. It’s in the best interests of public health."

She said she had spoken to leaders of the statewide counties association, and believes she has support among most of the 62 counties in New York.

"They did not give me push back," she said. "They understood."

Among the upstate counties where leaders say they will not enforce the mandate are Madison near Syracuse and Livingston near Rochester, along with Putnam, Dutchess, Rockland, Niagara, Saratoga and Rensselaer.

All those counties are controlled by Republicans. Hochul is a Democrat. Blakeman is a Republican, while Curran and Bellone are Democrats.

Starting Monday, all indoor public places — including restaurants, gyms and offices — must either require people entering to wear a mask or show proof of vaccination. The locations cannot "mix and match" the policies, but must choose one or the other.

The mandate, imposed amid sharply rising COVID-19 indicators, is to be enforced by local health departments. Violators could face civil and criminal penalties along with fines of up to $1,000 for each violation.

In a statement Monday, the state Department of Health said that while the state's order "leaves enforcement up to local health departments, we are confident that businesses and individuals will comply with these protocols in order to keep themselves and their communities safe."

Curran's health commissioner, Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, said in a statement on Monday that "Nassau County is complying with the newly instated NYS guidance on masks in public places. The spirit of this mandate is education and self-protection of residents against contagious COVID-19 variants. The Nassau County Department of Health will respond to complaints on non-compliance."

Mixed signals on the streets of LI

On the streets of Long Island Monday, there were mixed signals regarding compliance with the mandate.

At a Starbucks in Patchogue, a sign was posted stating that people must wear a mask, but inside many lined up without one.

The majority of shoppers at the Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station were following the mandate.

Chris Brown, 64, of Huntington, said he doesn’t have a problem with the order.

"I think a lot of people don’t like it, but when you think about the risk of not doing something … I’m OK with it," Brown said. "I wear it when people ask me to and I’m vaccinated. I don’t have any problem with it."

Matthew McCardi, 38, of Huntington, said he did not agree with the mandate.

"I’m pro-vaccine, anti-mandate," McCardi said. "If I have my vaccine, why am I wearing a mask?"

He said he has no problem with people wearing masks and keeping their distance, but said it shouldn’t be mandatory.

In Farmingdale, Jeff Morrison, 69, said the mandate isn’t impacting him personally because he was wearing masks before it.

"I don’t have a problem with it at all," Morrison said. "To me, it seems that people are being more conscientious about it."

He said he and wife tend to wear masks to protect other family members.

Howard Sturm, 64, of Farmingdale said he wasn’t happy about the mandate.

"When the mandate is over and the pandemic is over, I don’t think anyone should be wearing a mask period," he said.

Hochul argued Monday that she was imposing the mandate to avoid more stringent requirements such as outright shutdowns.

"This is a very short-term, minor effort in comparison to what the people of this state had to go through for many months when there were complete lockdowns and people could not go out anywhere," she said. "And I will never let that happen in this state."

She added: "I'm not attempting to be heavy handed … I'm taking decisive action to get us through this as soon as possible."

Long Island had a seven-day positivity level of 6.66% as of test results reported on Sunday, while some areas upstate were around 9%. New York City had the lowest level in the state, at 2.81%. The city has a proof of vaccination requirement for entry into indoor public places such as restaurants and theaters.

Long Island had a total of 1,706 new cases in test results Sunday, with 918 in Suffolk and 788 in Nassau. New York City, with nearly three times the population, had 3,824.

New York now has 38 confirmed omicron cases, with four in Suffolk, three in Nassau and 23 in New York City, according to state data.

Across the state, 46 people died on Sunday of causes linked to COVID-19, including five in Suffolk and two in Nassau.

With Scott Eidler and Darwin Yanes

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