Last week the Seneca County Health Department thanked residents and businesses for complying with the state mandates rolled out during the Coronavirus Pandemic. It has been more than a month since Seneca County was mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York State to fully-enforce the enhanced social distancing rules.
“Seneca County continues to be in an excellent position with low numbers of new infections and no deaths occurring in the county from COVID -19 over the past month. As schools and businesses prepare to re-open across the county, now is the time to maintain our vigilance and continued collective efforts to wear masks/face coverings, social distance, and avoid large non-essential gatherings. This is the formula that will allow our economy to recover and grow,” Public Health Director Vickie Swinehart said.
It is sentiment backed up by Seneca County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bob Hayssen, R-Varick, as well as other members of the board who responded to an inquiry over the weekend for comment on progress and enforcement of those state mandates. That said, not all supervisors agree that County response has been without flaw.
A rally is planned for Tuesday, August 25th at 4:45 p.m. ahead of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors meeting.
“I have been hearing comments by email, Facebook, GOP Committee, etc. accusing Seneca County of being responsible for closing down businesses in Seneca County,” Chairman Hayssen said. “We all know that is not true. They are not reopening or closing because of the actions taken by NYS and Gov. Cuomo, not the Government of Seneca County.”
“If we want businesses to survive and prosper we need very, very low COVID numbers so people will want to come and visit Seneca County and spend money. People are coming here because they feel safe, we are low risk,” he added in an email. “They don’t mind wearing a mask and social distancing. This creates business, the mindset of the few supporting HERD IMMUNITY will destroy businesses. So we have to make up our minds, do we want to want to help our businesses return to profitability or try an experiment of HERD IMMUNITY under the disguise of my Constitutional Rights. I’ve observed the business along Route 89, the vacation rentals all being filled by mostly New Yorkers and some from Pennsylvania. Heavy traffic on the weekends. We are coming back – don’t screw it up!”
Supervisor Mike Ferrara, R-Seneca Falls, shared similar sentiment, noting that “a vast majority of businesses have supported COVID-19 health precautions and are cooperating to promote public health and safety.” He did note that more businesses should be allowed to reopen if they can come up with plans to do it safely.
Supervisor Ralph Lott, R-Seneca Falls, took it a step further, noting that compliance has been crucial to keeping infection rates low in Seneca County.
“I know there are people who want the county completely opened up, but that would probably only cause setbacks,” he said. “I believe it is more important to get schools safely opened rather than seeing a lot of non-essential businesses open.”
Despite all of this, some local businesses have voiced frustration with the state mandates and enforcement from Seneca County.
A.J.’s Family Diner in Ovid posted to Facebook about their experience, after a person complained to the Seneca County Health Department, prompting an inspection, and drastic change in operation.
“As I’m sure many of you understand after being shut down for three months it has been quite a struggle financially to open back up and try to hang on through this nightmare,” the post reads. They ask customers who are concerned about their safety or well-being to wait to return to their restaurant until they feel comfortable and safe. “We would love to have you come back when you feel comfortable and safe. For those of you who continue to support our business and help us stay afloat you can’t even imagine how grateful we are to have you,” the post added.
The town supervisor from Ovid, where A.J.’s Family Diner operates outlined his position on the reality that many are facing.
“Our businesses are facing unprecedented economic, supply chain and regulatory challenges. While they have been tremendously cooperative with respect to social distancing and masking protocols, in many cases, they simply do not have the bandwidth to balance daily operational needs with the policing of individual customer behavior,” Supervisor Joe Borst, R-Ovid, added of the pressures local businesses are facing. “Ever-evolving guidance from the state will continue to require constant monitoring and increased information-sharing for the foreseeable future. In order to maintain the economic health and vitality of our county, we must invest in the success of our businesses, and that requires collaboration and education, not over-regulation.”
He says that he’s been advocating for clear, fair and consistent regulations, with a focus on education and support. “Fines must be judicially administered in only the most extreme cases of negligence or repeat offenses.”
Supervisor Boost also says that complaints should need a name attached to them if they are going to prompt investigation.
“It is also essential that we prioritize stakeholder engagement and establish a vetting process that eliminates vindictive/anonymous complaints,” he said in an email. “In just a few short weeks, our children will be returning to schools, and we have an obligation to focus our efforts and attention toward keeping them safe and healthy. We cannot do that if we are devoting already-taxed resources toward fining the businesses that are working around the clock to meet our basic needs.”
To date, health officials say no one has been fined.
Chairman Hayssen says it comes down to making Seneca County a place where people want to spend money.
“If we want businesses to survive and prosper we need very, very low COVID numbers so people will want to come and visit Seneca County and spend money. People are coming here because they feel safe, we are low risk,” he added in an email. “They don’t mind wearing a mask and social distancing. This creates business, the mindset of the few supporting HERD IMMUNITY will destroy businesses,” he said in an emailed statement. “So we have to make up our minds, do we want to want to help our businesses return to profitability or try an experiment of HERD IMMUNITY under the disguise of my Constitutional Rights. I’ve observed the business along Route 89, the vacation rentals all being filled by mostly New Yorkers and some from Pennsylvania. Heavy traffic on the weekends. We are coming back – don’t screw it up!”