PENN YAN — Following a long debate, Yates County legislators have approved an immediate mask mandate in all county buildings due to a COVID-19 resurgence.
The mandate was approved by a 7-2 vote during a special Legislature meeting Tuesday. The only no votes were from Dan Banach and Carlie Chilson.
Legislators Bill Holgate, Jim Multer and Ed Bronson were absent. Legislator Rick Willson had to leave for a work-related issue before the vote.
County Administrator Nonie Flynn said the mandate, for the public and employees, will be in effect until the county’s coronavirus transmission rate drops below the “substantial” or “high” standard set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Employees seated at their desks do not have to wear their mask,” she said.
The debate followed a presentation by Annmarie Flanagan, the county’s director of public health, who said the county is now in the “high” transmission range. She said there were 19 new cases over the holiday weekend and another 15 possible cases under investigation, including possible clusters at a daycare center and from a wedding.
Flanagan said it is up to county business owners if they want to mandate mask use.
“I will never advocate for a lockdown again. I will never recommend that we shut down businesses,” she said. “Politics has no role in science, but politics is part of this debate. We need to protect people in our county buildings.”
“I don’t see many people wearing masks in stores, and there is no proof it is spreading in our buildings,” Chilson said. “It’s the right of Americans not to wear a mask.”
Brenda Reynolds was one of several people who supported the mandate.
“I also don’t appreciate the fear-mongering here,” she said.
Tim Groth, the county’s director of information technology, said the employees in his department support a mandate since they work closely with other county employees.
“We can’t socially distance, so we wear masks. We are 100% behind it,” he said. “It’s such a small, easy task.”
Elaine Lewis, president of the county’s Civil Service Employees Association, said the majority of the union’s employees don’t want a mandate.
Speaking against the mandate were Benton Town Supervisor Jack Prendergast and Joy Shank of Himrod, a nurse-practitioner. She said there is no proof wearing masks prevents the spread of the virus.
“There is no evidence of spread in county buildings,” Shank said. “This is the USA. What are we doing telling people they have to wear masks?”
“This is about government control. Don’t roll over and play dead,” Prendergast told the board. “Let people make their own decisions.”
The majority of legislators, however, backed the thoughts of Legislator Tim Cutler.
“The virus is spreading here, and it is spreading around the country big time,” he said. “If we care about our citizens and our employees, we should have a mask mandate.”