Residents Protest Vaccine Mandate, Call For A “Constitutional Sanctuary”

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MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County residents are taking a stand against New York State’s COVID-19 Vaccine mandate for healthcare workers and calling on the county legislature to create a “Constitutional Sanctuary.”

Dozens of people from across the area gathered prior to Wednesday’s Legislature meeting in Mayville to express their concerns. Several of them also spoke directly to lawmakers.

“Our country is becoming entangled into a web of deception, betrayal and fear,” said Silver Creek resident Katelin Visinic. “The last two years we have all been in fear about COVID, but we need to unite as one.”

Last month, Cattaraugus County lawmakers passed a resolution similar to what the group is asking for.

“We are asking you to stand for the rights of workers, and adopt a freedom ordinance of which we are petitioning,” explained Ashville resident Cathy Abate who helped draft the petition document. “We have hundreds, as of today we have over 500 signatures and we just started the petition over one week ago.”

Abate was among those who gathered calling on lawmakers to draft a constitutional sanctuary resolution.

“We request Chautauqua County Government to impose penalties, fines and administrative censure on any for-profit or any non-profit business or organization which would terminate or furlough any employees or deny individuals the opportunity for commerce on the basis of their mandatory compliance with COVID-19 policies and procedures,” continued Abate, who then asked lawmakers if they would sponsor such bill; in which none responded.

Not everyone at the meeting was in support of the demonstrators, including the County’s Budget Director Kathleen Dennison.

“I’m not in favor of a constitutional sanctuary, we just need to get vaccinated,” explained Dennison. “Because if you don’t, for all of you who don’t, you are infringing on my personal liberty to live in a world that is free from COVID.”

Several healthcare workers also spoke out, as well as Jamestown nurse Victoria Knapp who was on her way to work prior the meeting, in what Knapp said could be her last shift due to her vaccination status.

“I just ask you (the lawmakers) to consider looking at this mandate and overturning it, or going to your powers that be to help us to continue to do our jobs,” pleaded Knapp. “We love what we do, we love taking care of people, and we ask that you help us to continue to take care of you and your loved ones.”

Knapp warned if lawmakers don’t stand up to the state, the county’s healthcare availability will be in jeopardy.

“We are already seeing loss of services, ORs (Operating Rooms) are closing down,” explained Knapp. “Upstate New York is already seeing a closure of delivering babies, and I think that is just the beginning.”

This month healthcare workers sued the state over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate refusing to acknowledge religious exemptions. The plaintiffs argue the order violates their religious freedoms.

A federal judge extended a temporary restraining order against the state’s requirement to October 12. The order does not completely eliminate the state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. As of Tuesday, those who don’t have a religious or medical exemption must still get the vaccine.


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