MAYVILLE – The decision by Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel not to implement the mask mandate locally created some tension at this week’s legislative meeting when some residents refused to wear masks even though they were they had been invited to do so.
At the start of the County Legislature meeting on Wednesday, President Pierre Chagnon asked everyone in the chambers to wear a mask. “I would appreciate it if everyone complied with this” he said.
At the back of the chambers of the Legislative Assembly are seats for the general public. Some spectators present chose to wear a mask while others did not. A county employee could be seen offering masks to each person and many refused.
Sheriff Jim Quattrone was seated directly in front of the audience but did not turn to any of them. There are also sheriff’s assistants who greet the public as they enter. They also did not approach any of those present who were not wearing masks.
At the end of the regular meeting, Chagnon invited people to address the Legislative Assembly. He again reiterated his request that anyone who speaks wear a mask when approaching the microphone.
The first woman who approached the microphone said she “I cannot wear a mask” but promised to keep his distance from others.
The wife, Kathy Abbate of Ashville, thanked Wendel and others for “The decision to oppose illegal and unconstitutional warrants and fines associated with non-compliance. “ She was referring to Governor Kathy Hochul enacting a New York statewide mask mandate, which went into effect on Monday.
For the next 40 minutes, residents walked over to the microphone with the majority criticizing the state for the mask’s mandate. Some claimed “Alternative drug therapies” and others said the state was trying to undermine the freedoms of all Americans.
One woman said she was a nurse and was disappointed that she couldn’t work. Another woman said her local restaurant feared he might still be fined by the state, even though the county executive said it would not enforce the mask warrant. Another resident called on the legislature to deny any state or federal funding that would be given to promote the vaccine.
At one point, Chagnon asked a resident to wear a mask before speaking. “You are invited to the chambers of the Chautauqua County Legislature. I asked you to wear a mask and I would expect and appreciate some respect for this chamber, for these legislators and my position ”, he said. She refused, saying the government had no right to tell her what to do with her body.
As she spoke, lawmaker Bill Ward, R-Mayville, asked Chagnon if the legislature was going “Continue to ignore the mandate of the state” but the president ruled that Ward’s comments were out of order.
Ward apologized for interrupting him and then rose to speak. When it was his turn, he asked Chagnon again if it was the lawmaker’s position to ignore the state mandate, but the president did not respond.
Since this was his last meeting, Ward replied: “I’m going to let go of my disappointment and just say that I support the county’s position, the health department’s position that encourages people to wear masks, that encourages all businesses, schools, and public gatherings to follow the guidelines of the health department and to demand masking and social distancing. I encourage the Chautauqua County government to support these practices and save lives.
Lawmaker Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown also spoke during the second speaking privilege. Wednesday was also his last meeting. He said he was talking “not as a legislator” but as a permanent resident of the county. “I’m quite bipartisan and apolitical, so I’m not here to debate political issues” he said.
Instead, he explained how the day before he went to the intensive care unit at UPMC Chautauqua in Jamestown saying goodbye to one of his best friends who was dying of COVID-19. . “He refused the vaccine – his choice was his right. He wouldn’t wear a mask if he didn’t have to, again freedom of choice. He thought he could beat COVID. Today I went with his wife to the Lind Funeral Home to help her organize her funeral ”, said Nazzaro.
He was also at a funeral earlier today for a family member who died from COVID-19. “No good days for me” he said.
Nazzaro called on locals to “do the right thing” and take precautions and get vaccinated. “We are in a health crisis. More than 800,000 people have died nationwide. We can debate the issue. Of course we can. This county, we had 11 deaths last week. Two weeks ago we had over 800 new cases. … The reason I wear a mask is because I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s my right. But also, I don’t want to give this virus (to others) ”, he said.
Hochul has the mask mandate in place at least until January 15. The organizational meeting of the County Legislature is set for January 3, while the next regular meeting will be on January 26.