New COVID restrictions are being put in place in Oneida County. Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente made the announcement today at Hart's Hill Inn in Whitesboro.

At a press conference today Picente says that he is trying to make the new mandates as "least restrictive as possible" while stopping the spread of the virus.

Picente and Dr. Kent Hall, the Chief Physician Executive with the Mohawk Valley Health System, met with businesses and community leaders immediately before the press conference to answer questions.

Picente said that the decision came with a lot of deep thought.  "We are seeing numbers in the two hundred now on a daily basis."

"With all of those things happening," he says, "I have been reluctant in weeks past to put forth new mandates...we cannot let people die."

Effective Monday, December 13, 2021, at 7:00 am through January 10, 2022 masks must be worn in all indoor establishments.  This includes restaurants, businesses, and retail stores.  "The easiest thing is that everyone wears a mask," he says.  The temporary order will be re-evaluated to determine if an extension is necessary.

If a business or event requires the COVID vaccine as a prerequisite for attendance then masks are not required.  However, if the business or event does not mandate the COVID vaccine for all, then employees and building visitors must wear masks, except when eating.

At weddings and private parties, masks are not required as long as temperature protocols are observed.  At private functions, guests must have their temperatures taken prior to entry.  If a guest has an elevated temperature then that guest must not enter.  However, if someone does not have an elevated temperature and is not exhibiting symptoms, then no masks are required at the private function.

The public health law allows fines of up to $2,000 for a first-time offense. Those could be imposed for those who violate the mandate.  "We are not looking in the windows," Picente says, "but if we receive repeated complaints we may prosecute."  Picente says "We have had 27 deaths in the last three days.  That is 27 deaths too many."

The move comes after the omicron variant was discovered in Oneida County.  Leaders are struggling to maintain public health standards and keep businesses open.

Picente says that he knows that he will be criticized by some for the move.  He says that he also understands that 25 to 30-percent of county residents will not get vaccinated.

Dr. Kent Hall says, "There is no magic number."  This is the right time, Dr. Hall says, to impose the mandate.  "We know what we do on the holidays; we get together."  And he says, he is encouraging that.  The mental health toll of isolation is dangerous as well.  "This is a respiratory disease," Dr. Hall says, and the new restrictions "(seem) like a pretty reasonable to me."

Governor Kathy Hochul has been urging counties throughout the state to adopt new restrictions to curb another spike in COVID infection rates as the omicron variant spreads.

All individuals who are age five and older are eligible for the vaccine.  The New York State Department of Health is still encouraging people to "wear a mask where appropriate and follow all other health guidelines."

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