SARATOGA COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Saratoga business owners are just trying to handle the last of the holiday rush, but Scott Swedish, owner of Saratoga Coffee Traders, said he and his fellow proprietors are taking the brunt of Saratoga County’s public defiance of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mask mandate.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Swedish said. “I don’t know what to do at this point, because there’s no help coming.”

“My staff just wants to serve coffee and food to people, and that’s it. They don’t want to be put in the position to police people on whether or not they’re masked, and that’s exactly what our Saratoga County executive did when he said that the law was unenforceable,” he went on to say.

Swedish refers to the statement by Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chairman Theodore T. Kusnierz, Jr. from Monday, December 13. In it, the chairman called the mandate “misguided” and “unrealistic”. He also said the county would not divert staff from vaccinations and testing:

Saratoga County’s Public Health Department and Law Enforcement will not enforce New York State’s misguided and unrealistic mask mandate, which passes the buck to counties to enforce what the Governor herself said just over a week ago is “almost impossible” to enforce. 

Importantly, under no circumstances will the County enforce the harmful provision that bars school children from taking mask breaks. 

Saratoga County will not reallocate valuable, limited public health resources from providing much needed vaccines and boosters to the community. Nor will we reallocate important public safety resources that continue to keep Saratoga County one of the safest counties in the State. This mandate attempts to divert these county employees and resources from their intended missions, while pitting our community members against each other by encouraging people and businesses to report perceived mask violations to law enforcement and the local health department.

Our public health team is a dedicated group of healthcare professionals whose job is to educate the public on how they can best protect themselves from communicable diseases and viruses, such as COVID-19.  Local Health Departments are not policing agencies.

The best way to protect the health and safety of Saratoga County residents, families, schools and businesses is to continue to focus public health resources on rapidly providing booster vaccinations to the public, which our Public Health team continues to do.  Asking already thin-stretched local health departments to enforce mask or vaccination mandates only detracts from this critical endeavor.   Governor Hochul would know this, had she consulted with county leaders, but, just as her predecessor, she did not.

Anyone with questions or complaints regarding the New York State mask mandate should call the Governor’s Office at 518-474-8390.

We will continue our ongoing education efforts to all entities throughout the County in our fight against COVID-19.   A vaccination may save a life; issuing a fine only helps to fuel more division in our community.

THEODORE T. KUSNIERZ, JR.
CHAIRMAN OF THE SARATOGA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

Swedish said all that translates to for business owners is no support from the county and customers retreating to other counties where they feel safe. “When you hear definite, determining words like that, the public’s going to look at it and say, ‘OK, we don’t have to wear masks,'” he said.

Swedish isn’t the only business owner with concerns about the public stance. Saratoga County later issued another statement to “address concerns from our business community.” It said Kusnierz’s statement shouldn’t be interpreted as against mask use:

To address concerns from our business community, while Saratoga County has publicly stated we don’t have the staffing resources to enforce the State mask mandate, this in no way should be interpreted that the County doesn’t support mask use. Saratoga County has had a Public Health Advisory out since August that recommends indoor mask use for everyone regardless of their vaccination status during times of high community transmission. This is still in effect. Further, businesses throughout Saratoga County are within their rights to have a mask for service policy in place. Saratoga County, however, cannot and will not send staff door to door to enforce this state mandate, nor will we fine our small businesses and not-for-profits as the state would like us to do. Our public health efforts will continue to be focused on ensuring everyone who wants a vaccine or booster is able to receive one, which is our best defense against the severe effects of this virus.

On Thursday, Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston was among those picking up their allotment of 100,000 KN95 masks delivered by the state Wednesday. However, despite Gov. Hochul’s promise to distribute $65 million and even more resources to those counties who enforce her mandate, Gaston said Saratoga’s position hasn’t changed.

“We’re going to focus our public health services where they can most be useful, and right now, that’s going to be with testing and vaccinations. We’re asking people to work with us, that’s why distributions like this are important to make sure people can follow that guidance, but we just don’t have the people to send out into the community,” she explains.

She further said the KN95 masks will be distributed to many in the Saratoga County community who have asked for them and need assistance with access to resources.

“Our priority in distributing them is going to be those most in need or those with the least ability to get access to masks themselves. Our first responders will have access to some, and we’ll make sure those in our public housing units have some. We are going to reach out to our community organizations, Franklin Center, the food bank, etcetera,” Gaston said.

Despite multiple attempts to meet and requests for a statement, Chairman Kusnierz was unavailable Thursday.