Hochul to Blakeman: Counties ‘Have to Follow State Law’ on Masks

BRIANA BONFIGLIO for Long Island Press

Originally published in Long Island Press

Gov. Kathy Hochul stood firmly by her Covid-19 mask mandate on Friday, adding that counties do not have authority to override the state law, a day after Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman set his own executive orders defying mask requirements.

Specifically, Blakeman signed an order stating that school boards could decide whether or not their district requires mask wearing. The order is in opposition to New York State’s Public Health Law 206 that requires counties to enforce masking regulations in schools and other settings.

“Those who underestimate me do so at their own peril, including the county executive of Nassau County,” Hochul responded to a question from reporters during her Covid-19 briefing on Friday. “I have the law of the state of New York behind me, and I will always exercise my authority and obligation to protect the health of the people of this state … Municipalities, such as counties, are creatures of the state. They have to follow state law.”

Hochul added that schools are regulated by the State Education Department, whose commissioner, Betty A. Rosa, issued a statement Thursday strongly supporting the mask mandate in schools and stating that counties must enforce that law. 

The governor also noted that the state education department has “an additional point of leverage in that they fund all the school districts, therefore I feel very confident that our requirements will stand.”

“Teachers stand with us, parents stand with us, and those who choose to defy that will understand that there are consequences and fines and cessations of funding,” Hochul said.

State legislators from Nassau County have also voiced their opposition to Blakeman’s order on masks. In a joint statement, State Senators Todd Kaminsky, Anna Kaplan, Kevin Thomas, Jim Gaughran, and John Brooks, and Assembly members Michaelle Solages, Chuck Lavine​, Judy Griffin, Taylor Darling, and Gina Sillitti expressed gratitude for the mask mandate to help keep schools a safe place for students.

“Over the past two years 3,435 of our friends, neighbors and loved ones in Nassau County have died from Covid-19,” the statement says. “At this point in the pandemic, when pediatric hospitalizations are spiking at dangerous levels, it would be the height of irresponsibility to ignore Gov. Hochul’s vital efforts to protect public health. 

“We are confident the school districts of Nassau County will continue acting responsibly in the coming days, as they had no input in the county executive’s actions,” the statement continues. “For the sake of our children, teachers, and school personnel, County Executive Blakeman must immediately rescind his irresponsible and clearly unlawful executive order.”

During the Covid briefing, New York State Health Commissioner Mary Bassett revealed that 339 pediatric patients were admitted to New York hospitals for Covid-19 between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, and most of them were unvaccinated.