The New York State Department of Health (DOH) has announced its deployment of “mask squads” to ensure people adhere to public health guidelines. In a Dec. 7 email to employees, the DOH said it was looking for staff members to volunteer for these squads, which will handle “community outreach” and “enforcement of … regulations related to the use of face coverings [or] masks and social distancing.”
Volunteers who sign up will see “immediate [and] urgent deployment” to the Orange and Rockland counties and will be eligible for overtime pay. The email indicated that mask squad members will go on duty from Dec. 5 to Dec. 11, and consequent weeks through New Year’s Day.
Both counties are home to large ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, with some defying safety protocols: They also have some of the highest Wuhan coronavirus infection rates in the state.
DOH Spokesman Gary Holmes told the New York Post the department is “active in all counties where there are increasing infection rates,” adding that redeploying staff members to help address the pandemic is not uncommon. “It’s all hands on deck,” he commented.
Holmes also said that DOH employees have been reassigned to help in drive-through coronavirus testing sites and enforce safety protocols at the state’s airports.
Meanwhile, Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus welcomed the mask squad, saying: “The repercussions of these [infections] continuing to climb warrant a strong message of awareness and enforcement.”
Neuhaus noted that New York state police are also involved in educating residents and enforcing safety protocols. He told the Post that law enforcement members were “going to supermarkets and department stores” to give away masks and tell people to wear them. However, he expressed concern over a “worrisome” second wave of infections hitting the county. (Related: Cuomo launches “social distancing task force” to medically tyrannize New Yorkers, even as restaurants and gyms remain open exclusively to politicians.)
“It’s definitely a concerning increase as we’re starting to see [cases] coming from the Thanksgiving gathering. We had a number of deaths over the weekend,” he said.
The Orange County executive also mentioned he was keeping his eyes peeled on the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations. He said: “I haven’t agreed with Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo all this time throughout this crisis, but he’s right on the hospital capacity. We’re not there [yet] — we’re about 40 or 50 percent being occupied. That is the number to watch. I’m bracing for an uptick now, so do I think it’s going to be astronomical. [Is] it going to be crippling? I hope it’s not, but we’re preparing for it.”
Meanwhile, Cuomo warned Dec. 7 that he will shut down indoor dining if the COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates do not stabilize. The New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) and the New York City Hospitality Alliance swiftly condemned Cuomo’s threat, which they called “unfair.” (Related: Cuomo: Reopening after coronavirus needs to consider the “human cost”.)
The governor is no stranger to implementing draconian health measures, such as ordering restaurants closed and prohibiting religious gatherings. He even called sheriffs who refuse to implement his lockdown mandates “dictators,” telling them during a press briefing: “You don’t have the right to pick laws that you think you will enforce, and you don’t enforce laws that you don’t agree with.”
Actor Kevin Sorbo, known for his role in the television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, pointed out the paradox in a Dec. 7 tweet: “If lockdowns and masks worked, we wouldn’t see the states with the strictest mandates having the highest cases.”
Based on Johns Hopkins University data, the U.S. currently has a 15.1 million COVID-19 caseload with 5.7 million recoveries and 286,319 deaths.
Find out the latest news about Wuhan coronavirus lockdowns in New York and other states at Pandemic.news.