UTICA, N.Y. (WSYR) — Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente says he supports and will enforce the state requirement that masks be worn in public places unless the individual business or venue checks for vaccine proof upon entry. The county was already mandating masks before the new statewide guidance, and Picente said he’s frustrated that public health decisions are becoming political fodder.
The more-restrictive state rule outranks Picente’s own plan to require masks in public places, but he plans to enforce it as he would his own. The stance from the Republican county executive is contrary to that of his Republican counterparts in other counties. Leaders Rensselaer, Saratoga, Dutchess, Madison, Cortland, Ontario, Orange, Niagara, and Livingston Counties have all publicly said they won’t enforce the state order because of political disagreements.
Picente expected complaints, but he and his team have been bombarded by vitriolic hostility. Some were so bad, he said, “I can’t repeat them on the air.”
When pushed again, he said he’s been called a communist, been told masks or vaccines don’t work, and that “Nobody’s dying. It’s all made up.”
Picente corrects the claims: masks and vaccines do work and the deaths are real. “I could tell you ten people that I know who died,” Picente said, “that were unvaccinated, that shouldn’t have died. That’s just ten I can think of off the top of my head, that I know personally. I know people in the hospital, not vaccinated, personally. Yet the message is not getting through.”
Picente has his own message that he put into words over the weekend and shared on Facebook.
When asked about other members of his own party defying health measures, Picente said, “I’ve been a Republican my entire professional life. The Republican Party is the vehicle in which I’ve gotten elected four times and I’m proud of it. But things have changed. It’s not my master. It doesn’t determine how I govern.”
He reminds his community that protecting health and safety is the responsibility of the county, regardless of any party’s political position. Separating public health decisions from scoring political points is behind his intention plans to enforce the state rule as he would his own.
“I’m not going to tell people we’re not going to enforce,” Picente said. “Then I’m telling people, ‘Do whatever you want.’ You know what? I have a responsibility. They [masks] do make a difference. They’re not 100%, people will say that. Same as the vaccine isn’t. But it’s a lot better than nothing.”