Reactions to mask mandate are mixed


At Shine’s, one of Long Beach’ most popular bars on the West End, co-owner Brent Wilson said he sensed problems on the horizon when he read Gov. Kathy Hochul’s new Covid-19 regulations mandate issued last Friday.

“It’s not great,” Wilson said a few days after the mandate was released. “It’s going to be a headache.”

But the issue became more complicated when incoming Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman announced earlier this week that he would not enforce Hochul’s mandates when he takes over Jan. 1. But he indicated things could change, depending on the Covid situation.

For a number of bar owners, Covid-19 restrictions are already a headache. Several said that since they advised patrons of mask requirements and posted notices about vaccinations, they have received telephone threats or been called “Nazis.” Those who reported the threats asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

Long Beach Police Commissioner Ron Walsh said he had not received any complaints about threats. But he said he planned to meet with bar owners this week to discuss the regulations and other Covid-related matters.

With the Covid-19 infection rate rising again — it was about 6 percent in Nassau County, compared to 4 percent in mid-August  — Hochul said the state would require masks to be worn in all indoor public spaces that do not require vaccination for entry. 

The mandate took effect Dec. 13. It means that unless employees check for proof of vaccination, offices, shops, restaurants and other businesses must require that patrons be masked. Those that do not comply could face civil and criminal penalties, including fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and local health departments are responsible for enforcement. 

Many Long Island businesses expressed dismay at the new regulations, saying they find them confusing, since they are unsure how they will be checked whether customers are vaccinated, if they adopt a vaccine policy, and how customers already weary of Covid-19 rules will react to more mask requirements. Hochul said the regulations would be re-evaluated Jan. 15.

Megan Casey, a co-owner of Shine’s, said the new regulations are vague. “Do I have to OK vaccination cards?” she asked. “If we choose the mask route, does it mean we still have to insist on social distancing? I hope that [the state] will be explaining these things.”

Ian Danby, the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce chairman, said he is aware of how frustrated business owners are with Covid-19 regulations, and he was saddened to see how the subject of masks and vaccinations had become politicized.

But, as difficult as regulations have become, Danby said, “It’s probably a good thing. We need to get this pandemic over with.”

Blakeman said in a statement: “Come Jan. 1, my administration will move Nassau forward with a common-sense approach that acknowledges the facts, science and progress made by our residents while also protecting businesses and jobs from any further damage created by government mandates.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she would enforce the regulations until the end of her term on Dec. 31.

Steve Diamond, owner of two Hollywood gyms, one in Long Beach and a new one in Hewlett, said he was unhappy with the new regulations.

“It’s absurd,” he said. “If I have 90 percent of the people here vaccinated, and two are not, it’s unacceptable.” He said he does not want to revert to a previous period when people were required to wear masks. ”Some people don’t like to wear masks when they work out,” he said.

Some said that they have not found regulations hard to enforce. Victoria Pizzimenti, a manager at Reign, a West End clothing shop, said people have cooperated with request to be masked.

“We are still asking everyone to wear masks,” she said. “If they refuse, we will ask to see vaccination cards.”

Audi Chang, who said he is the “health guru” at Bob’s Natural Foods on Park Avenue, said masks will continue to be required, and the store will also ask that people be vaccinated.

“We have a policy,” Chang said. “We say, No shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service.”