Franklin County mandates masks

The Franklin County Legislature on Thursday approved a mandate that will require the use of face masks in any public situation in which social distancing is not possible.

The measure reflects orders already issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo but adds a local emphasis — and the ability for local law enforcement to take action against violators if necessary — said Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, who put forward the resolution. It will also factor into the governor’s decision regarding when businesses can begin to reopen in the county, he said.

The county measure, which is based on a similar resolution adopted last month in Oneida County, mandates that face masks be worn in any local business and in lines or gatherings outside the businesses if 6-foot social distancing can’t be observed, Maroun said. The intent is to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has resulted in more than 75,000 deaths in the U.S. — nearly 20,000 of them in New York state.

No deaths from the virus have been reported in Franklin County.

To help drive home the message, the county will distribute signs for businesses to post on their doors outlining the requirement. The signs will include the county seal and be headlined “It’s the law” to make sure people know the order’s origin, said Legislator Lindy Ellis, D-Saranac Lake.

Many businesses already have signs telling customers to wear masks while shopping, but employees are reluctant to order that the rule be followed, Maroun said. Businesses don’t want to offend customers and risk losing their business, he said, and some are mindful of a fatal shooting in Michigan that happened after a store security guard ordered a woman to leave after she refused to put on a mask.

The county requirement “takes the onus off them” and places it on the county, Maroun said.

County Attorney Jonathan Miller noted that under the state Public Health Law, violators can be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Maroun told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that both the customer and the business could be penalized if the mask mandate is ignored.

Maroun, who is also the mayor of Tupper Lake, said he plans to instruct his village police department to not seek out violations but to respond if one is reported. If a violation is observed while police are on routine patrol, the offender will be asked to put a mask on and cited only if they refuse, he said.

But the emphasis of the resolution approved unanimously on Thursday is on education, not enforcement.

“There’re some people that don’t believe this is real,” Maroun said. The mask mandate may help convince some of them it is, he said.

“We don’t want to be mean; we don’t want to be Clint Eastwoods,” Maroun said. “We just want to be sure people are safe.”

The measure must be approved by both the state and county health departments. Maroun noted that the Oneida County measure already has state approval, and county Manager Donna Kissane said county Public Health Director Katie Strack has signed off on the resolution.

The use of masks does not necessarily protect those wearing them, but it protects those they come in contact with, Maroun noted. Ongoing state testing is showing that many people infected with COVID-19 exhibit no or only minor symptoms of the disease, but they can spread it to others who are more vulnerable.