© 2022 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Oneida County implements mask mandate

Madison Ruffo
WRVO Public Media

With holiday gatherings underway, Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said it’s time to mask up once again.

“It is a very busy time of year,” he said. “That's why I took the action that I did today.”

Starting Monday at 7:00 a.m. all indoor spaces in Oneida County will require a mask.

Picente said this is the best way to combat rising positivity and hospitalization rates in the county. Dr. Chris Morley of Upstate University Hospital agrees that, second to vaccines, masks are the best defense against COVID-19.

“Masks are a really important piece of the puzzle even in the presence of vaccination, and especially with the new considerations around Omicron,” said Morley.

As of Wednesday, Oneida County had a 6.9% positivity rate, which is actually on the lower side compared to most counties across upstate New York. However, it was the first upstate county to identify cases of the Omicron variant in its community.

“It's everywhere,” Picente said about COVID-19. “It's throughout this state throughout this country and everybody has to deal with it in different ways.”

Alongside the mask mandate is one that requires temperature checks for social gatherings outside the home like a holiday or retirement party at a banquet hall, for example. However, at those gatherings, attendees won’t need masks.

While this mandate will be in place through January 10, there are some exemptions. First, private gyms do not have to follow the mandate since they’re not permitted by the county.

Second, if a business requires proof of vaccination for all customers, people won’t have to wear a mask in that business.

“If that is the case, and no masks or temperature checks are required,” said Picente. “However, we know that in stores and other places that is not the case.”

But Morley is wary of this exemption because of how many breakthrough cases they’ve seen.

“Waiving masks in favor of proof of vaccination is very dicey,” said Morley.

Picente said the goal of this mandate aligns with his goals throughout this pandemic:

“Our goal here is simple,” he said. “We're trying to save lives and we're trying to reduce the number of cases not just during this holiday season, but going forward.”