Hochul announces $65 million for mask enforcement
Joshua Solomon reports in the Times Union that as COVID-19 case counts skyrocket locally and nationally, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Dec. 20 $65 million for masks, public awareness, and to enforce the state's mask mandate. Smaller counties can get up to $1 million, and larger counties up to $2 million, Hochul said, to make sure everyone in New York is wearing a mask when in public indoors. But only counties that "participate in the enforcement" can get the money. State inspectors will conduct "spot checks" to find out where masks are not being worn indoors. Several counties, including Greene and Dutchess counties locally, said previously they would not enforce the mask mandate because they did not have the money. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro said last week that in his county, "we will not escalate tension or conflict or further burden our local small biz by allocating resources we do not have to this impractical and unenforceable measure." Now, though, Molinaro could get the funds for enforcement, but instead he has moved the goal posts, saying Dec. 20 that, actually, his lack of enforcement is not a question of money but whether it is "appropriate, justifiable, something we can engage in." Molinaro makes that statement with many COVID-19 deaths in his county, and four-and-a-half times higher infection numbers in Dutchess County than at the start of November. The current coronavirus count in Molinaro's county is similar to the end of 2020, even though COVID vaccines are now widely available. On Dec. 20, New York broke its own single-day pandemic case record for a fourth straight day, with nearly 23,400 new cases. And New York state's vaccinated health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 20. Hochul also announced on Dec. 20 that ten million additional COVID-19 tests are coming for New Yorkers, including five million before the new year. Hochul implored anyone gathering for the holidays to get a test first. "If it can be done," Hochul said, "we highly encourage it for sure." Meanwhile, there were 63 more COVID-19 cases announced Dec. 20 in Columbia County, and 95 new cases in Greene County. Read more about this story in the Times Union.