Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman signed three executive orders on Thursday reaffirming that Nassau will not follow New York State’s mask mandate, instead leaving it up to local school boards, small businesses, and individuals to decide on mask wearing.
Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a statewide mandate requiring masks indoors at all schools, businesses, and offices in December in anticipation of a winter surge in Covid cases, which is now in full swing. The mandate lasts until Feb. 1, at which time it will be reevaluated.
“Let no one be fooled that we in Nassau County are not taking the challenges and risks of Covid-19 lightly. We are taking a very aggressive approach in fighting Covid-19,” said Blakeman, a Republican who officially took office on Monday. “But this aggressive approach must be balanced by keeping in mind the psychological and economic risks of every decision we make as well as individuals’ constitutional rights.”
Blakeman’s first executive order gives school boards the power to choose whether their district will require mask wearing. The second removes mask mandates for county employees, making it optional for them to wear masks. The third solidifies that Nassau will not cooperate with the state’s mandate, which would “unfairly fine residents and small businesses thousands of dollars,” Blakeman said.
“School boards are composed of elected officials who make decisions based upon the unique circumstances of each district. They are in the best position to make these decisions, not an autocracy in Albany,” Blakeman added about mask wearing in schools.
His executive order related to schools drew the most criticism on Thursday. In a statement, New York State Education Department Commissioner Betty A. Rosa insisted that mask mandates are still in effect according to state public health laws that require counties to enforce them.
“Counties do not have the legal authority to require boards of education to vote on specific issues,” Rosa said. “School officers take an oath to obey all legal requirements. The State Education Department expects school boards will follow all legal requirements, including the face-covering regulation.”
Democratic leaders in Nassau, including Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, expressed strong opposition to the orders, as well. Jacobs issued a statement saying that Blakeman’s “refusal to comply with the law … gravely endangers children, teachers, and our population’s most vulnerable.”
“This politically motivated directive will make school closures more likely, leaving middle and working class families unable to work or require them to pay for child care,” Jacobs said. “School mask mandates must end, but now is certainly not the time.”
William Biamonte, Chief of Staff for the Nassau County Legislature’s Minority Caucus, also issued a statement denouncing the orders on Thursday.
“When ideology trumps science and politics are prioritized over the common good of society, our most vulnerable residents stand to suffer the most,” he said. “[Blakeman] can say that ‘Nassau is normal again’ all he wants, but as Omicron continues to spread like wildfire and hospitalize more children than any other Covid variant to date, this is a recipe for disaster.”
Long Island’s Covid-19 positivity rate on a seven-day average was nearly 27% on Wednesday. Tests remain in high demand as the highly contagious Omicron variant continues to spread.
Blakeman announced and signed the bills during a news conference outside the executive and legislative building in Mineola, at which he also announced that the county will distribute a total of 160,000 Covid-19 testing kits at Eisenhower Park and Tobay Beach on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In addition, the county will hold a vaccination pod at Nassau Community College on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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