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Peace of Mind Dealer


Guest Column: Tim O'Hearn

The Schuyler County Administrator offers an update on the ins and outs and misconceptions of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis in New York State.

As we continue to deal with the unprecedented challenges associated with the public health response to the Covid-19 pandemic, communication and community education are critical to our successful recovery in Schuyler County. As we continue to face the challenges associated with state-local relations and trying to balance the health of our residents with the economic health of our business community, we continue to receive questions and comments from our constituents, many of whom have strong feelings on this subject.

That being said, I thought it might be helpful to provide fact-based information to address questions and to correct the myriad number of incorrect assertions associated with enforcement of Covid-19 orders. At the end of the day we are all in this together, and continued collaboration is key to our success in meeting this challenge.

As you are aware, Schuyler County has done exceptionally well in avoiding widespread transmission of this disease, and I once again offer my heartfelt thanks to our community for this accomplishment. To date, we have had a total of 17 cases. Remarkably, there have been no deaths nor even a hospitalization associated with Covid-19. This illustrates that the vast majority of our businesses and residents are trying to comply with the social distancing and personal protection measures that have been mandated.

However, this low experience rate has also contributed to either a false sense of security or a rationalization that because we are largely disease-free, the executive orders do not apply to us. While this is absolutely not true, for those still doubtful about the need for restrictions, simply look to the states that have disregarded recommendations and reopened too quickly or not mandated social distancing, and what has happened to their numbers. Texas, Florida, and Arizona are facing not only spikes in positive cases, but more importantly in mortality and ICU rates. Their health care systems are stretched to the max as they became the new epicenters for this disease.

Closer to home, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have found it necessary to impose new restrictions as their numbers begin to increase. And unfortunately, yesterday, New York in recognition both of what has happened nationally and in the face of disregard for existing restrictions, instituted a new order requiring food to be sold with any alcohol purchase in bars, restaurants and other establishments that serve alcohol.

The goal of this missive is to provide fact-based information and ask for your continued support and cooperation in ensuring that we comply with the executive orders that we have been tasked with enforcing (and no, I’m not happy either that this has been mandated to local government). Our overriding goal, beyond ensuring the health of our constituencies, should also be to make sure we don’t revert backwards.

Our businesses that are open need to remain open. We need to be able to reopen those that have not yet been authorized to do so. We need to reopen our schools. Again, we are extremely fortunate that the vast majority of our business community is legitimately trying to comply with all of the restrictions that have been imposed. Please don’t let the actions of literally a handful who refuse to comply jeopardize our path to recovery.

The following represents either frequently asked questions or assertions that are being proffered, mainly on social media, but nevertheless are commonly heard, and the facts associated with same:

I don’t have to follow any of the Executive Orders because they are not actual laws!

This is patently false. The State Legislature in March, amended NYS Executive Law and in so doing, granted the Governor extraordinary emergency power in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Simply put, the Governor has exercised this power and the executive orders issued since then carry the full force and weight of law. Failure to follow the Executive Orders most definitely carries criminal and/or civil penalties.

The wearing of face coverings is optional and subject to my personal beliefs.

While this is not accurate, practically speaking up until July 9th, that was largely the case in that there wasn’t strong language for enforcement, or consequences for noncompliance. That changed last week when the original face-covering order was renewed and strengthened. Below is summary of the new order:

Face-Coverings -- 10 New York Codes, Rules & Regulations (NYCRR) ยง 66-3.2

--Any person over two years of age and able to medically tolerate a face-covering must wear a mask or face-covering when in public and unable to maintain social distance.

--Passengers over the age of two and able to tolerate a face-covering must wear a mask or face covering when on public transport or private for-hire transport.

--Drivers or other employees of transportation carriers must wear a mask or face-covering if there are paying passengers on such transport.

--Any employee present in the workplace must be provided a mask or face-covering and must wear it when in contact with customers or the public, or unable to socially distance.

--Business operators and building owners must deny entry and/or remove any person who fails to comply with face-covering requirements.

--Adequate face coverings include cloth masks, surgical masks, N-95s, and face shields.

--To maintain social distance, persons must keep at least 6 feet away from any other person, other than their own family members.

I am medically unable to tolerate a mask, so this doesn’t apply to me. Further, you can’t challenge me as it is a violation of ADA and HIPAA

Wrong again. While the medical exemption language is frequently cited by employers and customers alike, it is not the loophole that one may think it is. With respect to employers who claim that their employee is unable to tolerate a mask and is therefore exempt, per the NYS DOH, in guidance issued 7/14: "If an employee cannot medically tolerate wearing a mask at work there is no exemption. They cannot interact with the public and should be placed on sick leave unless their job duties can be altered."

With respect to ADA, the U.S. Department of Justice on June 30th issued the following:

"The ADA does not provide a blanket exemption to people with disabilities from complying with legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operations."

The public can visit or call the ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY) for more information.

In my opinion, it is not inappropriate to ask for medical documentation of the claimed exemption. If the business is not inquiring as to details of the condition itself, as opposed to asking for documentation of same, this is not a HIPAA violation. In short, this is not an exemption that can be self-diagnosed. No more than we allow people to use handicapped parking without documentation, should we accept this excuse.

Out of state travel restrictions?

New York instituted restrictions on travelers from high infection states (currently 22) requiring voluntary 14-day quarantine of visitors from affected states:

There is no formal guidance for lodging establishments, but my advice when asked is that at a minimum, lodging should be informing potential guests of these restrictions at the time of reservation. It is then up to the guest to determine whether to visit or not. There is no requirement for lodging operators to enforce the quarantine provisions. Travelers arriving by air are required to submit documentation of travel plans and intent to comply upon arrival at receiving airports. There is no such requirement / restriction on those travelling by vehiicle.

I heard that restaurant employees who do not interact with customers are not required to wear face coverings, especially if they can maintain the 6’ social distancing requirement.

False. While common sense would seem to indicate that the person preparing the food would be the one most required to take at least the minimum precautions, the face-covering language does allow for selective interpretation. However, this is clearly addressed in the mandated section allowing restaurants to remain open, and of which every food service establishment should have attested (excerpt below) to as a condition of opening. (excerpt below).

How is live entertainment allowed?

While it is true that under the PAUSE Executive Order non-essential gatherings for Phase 4 regions are limited to no more than 50 people, establishments that have been granted the ability to host live entertainment as part of their liquor license may continue to do so. However, this does not negate or supersede any of the restrictions currently in place for bars and restaurants -- chief among which is indoor seating at 50% capacity. All seating must follow social distancing guidelines of at least 6’ of separation, with face masks required at all times that patrons are not seated. Establishments that choose to allow entertainment must do so in compliance with the aforementioned guidelines. Performances not associated with an SLA license may occur, but must be within the 50-person maximum.

What about wedding receptions or events at banquet facilities?

These are permissible subject to the 50-person maximum at this time.

Can you provide guidance on the most recent Executive Order concerning bars & restaurants?

Below is guidance concerning Executive Order 202.52.

I have pasted a section of the Executive Order addressing the new food availability requirements below as well as a link to the document

Executive Order 202.52:

New York State Liquor Authority Guidance On Requirement that Licensees With On-Premises Service Privileges Serve Food With Alcoholic Beverages

--“Purchase of a food item which is consistent with the food availability requirement of the license under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law” shall mean that for each patron in a seated party, an item of food must be purchased at the same time as the purchase of the initial alcoholic beverage(s).

--However, one or more shareable food item(s) may be purchased, so long as it/they would sufficiently serve the number of people in the party and each item would individually meet the food standard below.

--“A food item which is consistent with the food availability requirement of the license under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law” shall mean:

--For manufacturers with on premises service privileges: sandwiches, soups or other such foods, whether fresh, processed, pre-cooked or frozen; and/or food items intended to complement the tasting of alcoholic beverages, which shall mean a diversified selection of food that is ordinarily consumed without the use of tableware and can be conveniently consumed, including but not limited to: cheese, fruits, vegetables, chocolates, breads, mustards and crackers.

--For on premises retailers with a food availability requirement, including restaurants and taverns: sandwiches, soups or other foods, whether fresh, processed, precooked or frozen.

How will this be enforced?

To date, we have had success urging voluntary compliance, and as mentioned earlier the vast majority of the business community and customers are making a good-faith effort to comply. We will continue to work with businesses to assist them in compliance and have provided face masks for distribution through the Watkins Area Chamber of Commerce.

However, for those that choose to ignore or refuse to comply, given the recent strengthening of the regulations relative to Covid-19, we will prosecute through the District Attorney's office. Additionally, there may be regulatory intervention by NYS where licensing or permitting applies. Violations of these regulations by individuals are subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 per violation per day, as well as any other penalties that may be established in law.

Additionally, a willful violation of this regulation is a violation of Section 12-b of the Public Health Law, which is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.

Photo in text: Schuyler County Administrator Tim O'Hearn. (File photo)

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Carl Blowers, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp

Bottom row: Gary Gray, David Reed, Phil Barnes, Mark Rondinaro


Legislature Chairman

Carl Blowers, 535-6174 or 237-5469

Legislature Members:

Gary Gray, 292-9922

Van Harp, 329-2160

Jim Howell, 535-7266 or 227-1141

David M. Reed, 796-9558

Michael Lausell, 227- 9226

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482

Mark Rondinaro, 398-0648

County Clerk: Theresa Philbin, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Holley Sokolowski, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383

State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara. -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano -- Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
Room 723, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-5791