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By Rick Miller
The Cattaraugus County Legislature’s opposition to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mask requirement doesn’t include all legislators, says Minority Leader David Koch.
Koch, D-Salamanca, who has served on the county legislature for 10 years and is currently its only Democrat, said the County’s refusal to back the state mask requirement “is a decision from the majority (Republican) caucus, not all the legislature.”
He said he wasn’t consulted before County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer issued a statement on Monday saying the county would not enforce the mask requirement.
Koch said that “people who don’t want the county to honor this (mask) mandate” have called and texted him recently.
But in the past five or six weeks Koch said he’s also heard from constituents about what the county is doing in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
“I’m only one person,” Koch said. “I don’t call the shots.”
Koch said he feels that he represents all the residents of District 5, not just those for or against wearing masks. “I can understand people not want to be told what to do.”
But, he added: “The governor didn’t single us out even though we have a very high (COVID-19) transmission rate.”
Koch said he doesn’t consider wearing a mask an infringement on my constitutional rights. It’s for the good of the community.
“When I go out in the community, I wear a mask,” he said. “It’s a common courtesy to try and protect my community. Maybe one person won’t get the virus and get sick and die. … Ignoring the mask mandate is more of a political statement than a health statement. I’d rather avoid people getting sick than treat people after they get sick.”
The governor’s mask mandate calls for New Yorkers to wear a mask indoors whether they are vaccinated or not.
If a business, local government or venue has a vaccine requirement for entry and can verify everyone has been vaccinated, the mask mandate can be waived. The two can’t be mixed and matched under the governor’s mask requirement.
Enforcement of the mask requirement was left to local health officials. VanRensselaer said the county health department does not have the resources to enforce the governor’s mask requirement because employees are too busy trying to contact trace increasing COVID-19 cases.
Signs at the entrance of county buildings in Olean and Little Valley on Monday said only that unvaccinated people needed to wear a mask. Visitors were not asked whether they were vaccinated.
Some county employees have also expressed concern about the large number of visitors to county buildings who are not wearing masks.
Meanwhile, Cattaraugus County reported 50 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing to 11,085 the number of residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus since March 2020.
The daily percent positive on Tuesday was 12% and the seven-day rolling average was 10.6%
Forty-three of the new cases were people who were unvaccinated and seven had been vaccinated. The breakthrough cases involve people where the vaccine’s effectiveness has waned over time. This is the reason booster shots are now being recommended for all vaccines.
The health department is following 457 active cases including 41 who are hospitalized, and 521 people in contact quarantine. There have been 195 deaths since April 2020.
The southeast part of the county had the most new cases, 13. There have now been 5,268 cases in this part of the county, nearly 48% of the total.
The northeast part of the county had 12 new cases of a total of 1,529, and there were seven new cases in the northwest and southwest where there are now 1,529 cases and 2,215 cases respectively.
More than 800 county residents have tested positive for COVID-19 this month and there have been 19 deaths including eight on Dec. 1.
Appointments for vaccinations can be made through the Cattaraugus County website by visiting: https://www.cattco.org/covid-vacc-info or call the COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at (716) 701-3777 if you need assistance.
To register for a free COVID-19 diagnostic test through the county health department, go online to:
https://data.enchantedmountains.net/form/cattaraugus-county-covid-19-diagnostic-testing-registration-10
There have been 36,996 people who have completed their vaccine series and 40,483 people with at least one vaccine dose. That is 62.1% of the 18 and older population and 52.7% of the entire population with at least one vaccine dose.