Columbia County to enforce fines on mask mandate, gathering violations

Columbia County

HUDSON, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Columbia County may be the first locality to fine folks not wearing masks. Public Health Director Jack Mabb says the decision was not an easy one.

“We haven’t done any fines, and I would certainly love to see that not happen,” he says.

However, he says the county needed to respond to several COVID clusters that popped up in the last two weeks. Mabb confirms 45 out of 73 people living at the Ghent Assisted Living Facility have tested positive, 17 are in the hospital, and Tuesday morning marked the third death of a resident. As NEWS10 reported, officials trace that outbreak back to the spike at Greene Correctional Facility. Several Hudson Correctional officers also tested positive and their source of infection traces back to the state prison.

Mabb also adds more than a dozen staff are sick at the Brookwood Secure Center for juvenile offenders, and a recent student positive within Ichabod Central School District prompted the system to shut down the middle and high schools to opt for virtual learning. Mabb says it may be time to put his foot down.

“The overall community spread is very low, but at the same time, we’re all experiencing pandemic fatigue and it’s come to our attention where some are not following these protocols,” he says.

Mabb says at first they tried talking to business owners and also organizers of large gatherings. He says Environmental Health officers responded to multiple complaints at local convenience stores, gas stations, and event venues.

“We told them you really can’t do this, it exceeds the 50, and they just went ahead and did it, but at that time we just weren’t, we didn’t feel we were charged with doing it,” Mabb explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

That is until Governor Cuomo’s executive order this month authorizing local health departments to issue citations and bring mask violators to civil court. You could get a $1,000 fine for not wearing a mask and a $15,000 charge for gatherings over the 50 person limit.

“It’s going to be on the owner if they are not enforcing it among their staff, and that’s been one of the complaints that we’ve gotten fairly consistently,” Mabb says.

Now, he adds that doesn’t mean his staff will just start stopping anyone they see on the street.

“I don’t want to be the bad guy, I don’t want my department to be, people looking at us like we are the mask police, but again I think that we have to keep doing this, we have to keep the masks going, we have to think about what we’re doing when it comes to the gatherings,” he says.

Mabb says businesses will still get a warning first, they’ll be encouraged to put up a “no mask, no service” sign, and enforce it with their staff. He says after that, the health department won’t be ignored again.

“If we keep doing what we’re doing, I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on this in the community and if we can just control those little clusters that pop up, I think we can keep doing this through a vaccine,” he concludes.

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