Mask rules: Are we all masking up again? Depends on where you are

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 9/7/21

MONTICELLO, NY — As the delta variant is infecting new hosts, people are being encouraged—and sometimes required—to mask up again.

On August 27, the New York State Department of …

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Mask rules: Are we all masking up again? Depends on where you are

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MONTICELLO, NY — As the delta variant is infecting new hosts, people are being encouraged—and sometimes required—to mask up again.

On August 27, the New York State Department of Health issued a mask mandate for preschool–grade 12 students, subject to CDC exemptions. Vaccination status is not applicable. The ruling does not specify whether it applies to public or private schools. It does apply to workers in adult care facilities, correctional facilities, healthcare facilities and homeless shelters.

Mask-wearing came up at the September 2 government services committee meeting in Sullivan County.

Mask mandates and college students

SUNY Sullivan has had a couple dozen requests for exemptions on mask-wearing, said college president Jay Quaintance. “Most have been denied.”

Students attending in person at state universities and community colleges are required to be vaccinated. SUNY Sullivan’s posted guidance states that masks and social distancing are required in all locations.

Religious and medical exemptions are permitted; the medical exemptions follow CDC disability rules. A student would need to apply for an exemption.

The denials were issued because “they [the students] didn’t provide adequate support for the religious or the medical exemption,” Quaintance said. There are “very, very few” medical conditions that provide exemption and the religious one “has a pretty high bar...the courts have been very strict in that. You have to demonstrate that it’s a strongly held part of your religious practice, not just a moral or ethical reason,” he added.

Members from any particular religion are not requesting exemptions. “It’s really across the board.” And often “the leadership of the church does not stand by that exemption... my main goal remains the same, to try to keep as many people safe and in class as possible, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens. Like I said, we haven’t gotten a ton of pushback...we expected some. I don’t know that it’s caused us to decline in enrollment.”

Masking up in county government

“What is the rule in the county on masking?” legislator Joe Perrello asked. “Just tell me what the rule is and how we’re handling it. Because I’m tired of hearing about it.”

Last month, county manager Josh Potosek announced that people in the county government building would have to wear masks again. This applies to both the public and the staff.

So what happens when people don’t comply?

County employees, said Potosek, would be asked to put a mask on.

“I think we need to do that,” said Perrello. “I’m tired of hearing  about it; it’s everybody’s safety. There are people here who aren’t vaccinated... look, I’m tired of wearing this thing—”

“Joe,” interrupted legislator Nadia Rajsz. “Be careful what you ask for, because I had a complaint when I brought that to somebody’s attention and I was found to be unprofessional. Without an apology at all!”

“Mike,” Perrello said to county attorney Michael McGuire, “we’re legally bound to [the rule], correct?”

“The county manager is responsible for the safety of the facility and has the authority under the law to implement specific guidelines that go directly to public safety and proper and efficient operation of county government,” McGuire said. The rule directs that county employees wear a mask, especially when around the public areas of the government center or other government buildings, he added.

“I made that same statement to the chair in February,” Rajsz said. “And he put in a complaint against me. And I was found to be unprofessional... either I get a reversal on that decision, or an apology, or both. Listen, this isn’t about being unprofessional, this is about addressing a public health issue.”

“I can tell you, Nadia, if I showed up here without a mask, I can assure you they’d write me up,” said legislator Luis Alvarez. “It depends on who is without a mask...maybe they could write those instructions for me in Spanish, so I can read them,” he finished sarcastically.

The meeting adjourned.

For more about the new state rules, visit https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home.

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