County Executive: Fighting COVID Comes Down To Personal Responsibility

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MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County’s Executive says fighting the next wave of COVID-19 comes down to personal responsibility as he tries to help relieve pressure on local hospitals.

County Executive PJ Wendel spoke with WNY News Now on Tuesday morning after western New York’s most populous county restored a mask mandate amid a spike in positive cases and hospitalizations.

Wendel respects Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s decision to restore the mandate for all indoor public locations, saying it might be right for his county, however Wendel doesn’t plan to implement a similar act locally, citing the order’s negative impacts on business.

“The hard part is, many of our restaurants and hospitality industry did not come back from COVID,” said Wendel, citing New York’s ‘On PAUSE’ mandate in March 2020.

While Wendel is happy that New York State has respected local decisions by leaving the final word to localities, however feels there could be more guidance.

“We should not be here, because last January, February, and March when we were encouraging the vaccine, ‘get the vaccine if you want to get out of the mandates, if you want to get out of this stuff, get the vaccine,’ well, we did that, and now we are back again,” said Wendel. “There is a lot of concern, what is our endgame for the state, where are we looking to go?”

As for combating the “winter surge” Wendel compares the fight to the 1970s public service announcement campaign with Smokey Bear: “only you can prevent forest fires.”

“It’s the same with COVID, it’s your responsibility, because you get the vaccine it doesn’t mean you’re not going to spread it, it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get it, but it will protect you from getting sicker and ending up in the hospital,” explained Wendel. “But we haven’t heard that.”

He is frustrated the coronavirus battle has turned into a never ending send cycle.

“It’s like chasing our tail, we’re still chasing,” said Wendel. “It is challenging on our part.”

Wendel says at the end of the day keeping local hospitalizations low is top priority, while protecting businesses. In fact, the lack of space at local hospitals has impacted him personally.

“It was a matter of trying to find whether there was room at the inn, my mother had some significant issues where I believe any other time would have been hospitalized,” explained Wendel. “It was scary, it still is scary, I’m living this like everybody.”

Later Tuesday Wendel is scheduled to speak with New York State leadership where he says he will ask for further guidance amid the spike.

The vast majority of the state’s 62 counties are seeing sharp upticks in new COVID-19 positives, from those on Long Island to western New York. Additionally, much of the state is also seeing sharp increases in hospitalizations.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s warned last week that a continued uptick in COVID-19 rates could mean New Yorkers will again face more virus protocols in high-risk communities.

But the governor hasn’t laid out any specific protocols that she could re-institute, including where or when they’d take effect.


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