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Hochul says opponents to her mask mandate are just seeking 'headlines'

Gov. Kathy Hochul holds a COVID-19 update in New York City on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.
Kevin P. Coughlin
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul holds a COVID-19 update in New York City on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.

Gov. Kathy Hochul defended her statewide mask mandate Tuesday as fallout from the directive continued with at least a dozen counties in the state refusing to enforce the directive.

Under the policy, businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues must require that all patrons either wear masks, or all customers prove they are fully vaccinated before they can enter.

The plan calls for counties to enforce the mandates. But over the weekend, rebellion spread, and by Monday, at least 12 counties said they will not be enforcing the mandate. Some county leaders also complained that the new mandate was hastily devised and announced, and three days was not enough time to prepare for the changes.

Hochul defended the mandate rollout, saying she fully informed county leaders in a phone call to the state Association of Counties about the details beginning last Thursday.

“Including a call to the head of the Association of Counties that I placed myself, who said they support what we are doing,” Hochul said. “And they understand it.”

She called out county leaders who have publicly opposed the mandates, including Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaroand Nassau County Executive-elect Bruce Blakeman, saying they are trying to score political points at the expense of public health.

“We have to get a point of rational discussion about this, and it’s not about scoring political points or getting headlines to call out the governor on an issue,” Hochul said. “That doesn’t affect a single thing I do.”

Hochul said the majority of county leaders, who represent 73% of the state’s population, do back the mandates.

The governor also defended her rationale for the new rules, saying the rapidly rising infection rate is alarming. She said statewide, there’s been a 58% increase in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents since Thanksgiving.

She said the number of New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID-19, who are largely unvaccinated, has increased 70% since Nov. 25. She said she’s trying to keep the numbers from escalating so high that economic shutdowns become necessary.

Hochul was joined by selected local leaders and business owners who back the mandate, including Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow. He said the hospitals in his central New York region are close to capacity.

“The mask mandate does strike a fair balance,” Barlow said. “Between protecting our citizens and allowing business to safely stay open and operate successfully.”

Thirty-two hospitals across upstate are currently restricted by the state health department from performing elective surgeries because their bed capacity is less than 10%.

The governor spoke on the one-year anniversary of the first New Yorker, and the first American, to receive the vaccine. Sandra Lindsay, a nurse and the critical care director at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, received her first dose on national television.

Hochul said if more New Yorkers had followed Lindsay’s actions and received their shots, she would not have to impose any new mandates to fight the spread of the virus.

One year later, just over 70% of state residents are fully vaccinated despite the vaccine being widely available for the past several months.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.