MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County’s Executive hopes that the end of New York’s mask mandate will help bring an end to divisions caused by the pandemic.
The mandate, which was put back into place in December, 2021 after it was relaxed last year, ended Thursday after Governor Kathy Hochul declared the Omicron surge is past its peak.
“I want to thank all the businesses and the county leaders and the health departments and places as far away as Erie County who did the right thing to help us get through this,” says Hochul. “I believe this has made a huge difference and it gives patrons of businesses the comfort to know that they are safe when they went into these stores during our most vulnerable time when we saw those numbers, literally off the charts. And now those numbers are coming down and it is time to adapt.”
While Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel is happy life will soon begin to get ‘back to normal’ he says his team is still going to keep their eyes on the numbers.
“We’re gonna continue to monitor this like we have all along,” assures Wendel. “To keep in mind, as County Executive it’s ultimately the decision that rests on myself, but I also have a team of three doctors, our Public Health Director Christine Schuyler, our Sheriff and Emergency Services Directors.”
Wendel remains frustrated with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates, saying that the booster does not stop the spread of the virus, but instead prevents serious illness. Therefore, he believes, it is not worth losing healthcare workers over.
He also questioned the effectiveness of the mask mandate, given the high number of cases while it was in place.
“If you look at the number of counties who said they weren’t enforcing it, our numbers trended the same as the counties who were enforcing it. Our numbers went up, Chautauqua counties did not go up at an astronomical rate, we stayed at the same rates that everybody else had,” explains Wendel.
Even though Wendel’s administration did not enforce the mandate in the past months, that did not stop Wendel from sending out over 48,000 KN-95 masks to those who wanted them.
As we adjust to the news, Wendel urges residents to respect others’ decisions on whether they mask, and/or, vaccinate themselves.
“If people are without a mask that’s fine, if people want to wear a mask, great. Protect yourself, and we’ve said that all along. The same with the vaccine and the boosters, that’s your choice, make that choice with your healthcare provider, let them guide you in that choice,” says the Executive.
The next step, Wendel believes, is allowing children to attend school without masks, since he says there has not been a spike in cases within schools. Though he says no school wants to be the one to lift the mandate and have a child get seriously ill or die, the Executive believes we must have faith in the public health system to prevent this.
Wendel admits that there were mistakes made at the local, state, and federal levels at the onset of the pandemic, and that not admitting their faults has contributed to the decisiveness of the subject.
“Since the vaccine came out, because they said, ‘get the vaccine and it’s over,’ oops. We’re still getting breakthrough cases, it didn’t work. And no one has ever said, ‘we misjudged it, we made a mistake, it didn’t do what we thought it would.’ And I think that’s part of it, that nobody has owned up and said we made mistakes through this,” says Wendel.
Respecting a private business’s decision to enforce or not to enforce masking is another critical aspect of moving on, believes Wendel. He continues that we do not know if they, or someone close to them is immunocompromised, and should therefore respect their wishes.