On part of Long Island, the message is loud and clear: New York's mask mandate will not be enforced there.
Newly elected Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman made it official on Thursday, signing three new executive orders aimed at defying the state's rules regarding COVID protections. Blakeman's first order allowed schools to decide whether students need to mask up in class or not.
"Parents have a fundamental right to make healthcare decisions on behalf of their children," Blakeman said at a Thursday press conference. "Government may not infringe upon these rights without a compelling reason."
He also said that school boards can best make decisions "based upon the unique circumstances of each district," adding that "an autocracy in Albany" isn't in any position to make decisions.
But the governor said not so fast — promptly shooting down the order less than two hours after it was issued.
"State government, state laws prevail. There's also the issue of the state Education Department, which has direct control over funding of schools," said Gov. Kathy Hochul. "I hope I don't need to say any more on that topic."
In a statement, New York Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa explicitly laid out why Blakeman or any county does not "have the legal authority" to make such an order. The statement said that face masks are required by the state health commissioner, who has the power to direct local health departments to enforce regulations.
"School officers take an oath to obey all legal requirements. The State Education Department expects school boards will follow all legal requirements, including the face-covering regulation," the statement from Rosa read.
Some local school officials who have been critical of mask mandates, like Locust Valley Board of Education Vice President Margaret Marchand, stood behind Blakeman's order. She said that the mandate is wrong because it is a "parental choice, not that of a state or a governing agency."
The state teachers union issued a statement saying in part that "particularly given the current spike in cases, now is not the time to do away with mask wearing in schools."
The second executive order Blakeman issued allows Nassau County workers the option to wear a mask or not, making them no longer required inside or outside.
"Let no one be fooled that we in Nassau County are not taking the challenges and risks of COVID-19 lightly. We are taking a very aggressive approach in fighting COVID -19," Blakeman said in a statement. "But this aggressive approach must be balanced by keeping in mind the psychological and economic risks of every decision we make as well as individuals' constitutional rights."
Blakeman also said he will be providing KN95 masks to teachers in the county who are asking for that level of protection in order to teach safely. Additionally, Blakeman announced that they would be doubling the number at-home COVID tests given out. He said that more than 160,000 test kits will be distributed over the weekend at two locations, Tobay Beach and Eisenhower Park.
Currently, one of every four Nassau County residents who gets a COVID test is positive — a staggering number of cases that would have bothered the county health commissioner last January. But this year, he says its different
"While one in four are testing positive, very very few are seriously ill," said Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Larry Eisenstein. "We don’t have mask mandates during flu season, we don’t have mandates when there’s common cold. My job is to keep people out of the hospital."
However, doctors who have treated COVID patients through out the pandemic will all say: Masks do work.
"Masks are one of the methods we can spread the stem of the disease," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, of Mount Sinai South Nassau. "Judicious use of the mask, like when we are in a close proximity like this, makes sense."