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Oneida County responds to recent backlash over mask enforcement

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Madison Ruffo
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WRVO Public Media

As counties across the state stand up to say they won’t be enforcing the mask mandate, Oneida County officials are standing by the temporary public health order. County Executive Anthony Picente says this decision, despite what seems to be popular opinion, was an easy one for him.

“If I'm the odd man out, I’m fine,” he said. “If I could save a few lives in the balance and reduce our caseload, then I'll take that deal every time.”

Just days before the state’s public health order, Picente issued a mandate of his own that required masks and temperature checks at some venues.

“I just choose not to say that I'm not going to enforce a public health order when many of my residents are dying on a daily basis,” he said.

However, the decision to enforce the mask mandate–which is in effect until mid-January–was not a popular one. On Tuesday, Picente put out a message on Facebook in response to the slew of negative comments he’d received regarding the mandate.

“The people that are opposed to it who have just gone through great extremes of vulgarity and other issues, you know, relative to not wanting to do it,” said Picente.

That’s not to say Picente doesn’t understand the difficulties that come with enforcing mask-wearing. He said he knows it’s a big ask to put the responsibility on businesses to enforce it.

“I don't want to see people get into any tough situations and tell you to wear a mask,” he said. “If they don't, you did your job.”

Picente says despite the difficult logistics, he believes he made the right call.

“Saying that I'm not going to enforce it saying is that I don't believe it's worthy of anything. I think once you say that then you've lost any attempt at trying to curb what we're trying to do here.”

Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.