Local business cited for COVID-19 face mask violation

John Christensen

State raises criteria for enforcement on business and patrons

Himrod Farm Supply and Hardware at 3141 Himrod Road in the Town of Milo, was cited for a COVID-19 health law violation July 13. Yates County Sheriff’s Deputies issued an appearance ticket to business owner Leon Hoover for violation of Section 12 of the N.Y.S. Public Health Law, a civil violation, because employees interacting with customers were not wearing facial mouth and nose coverings when within the social distance of six feet.

Yates County Sheriff Ron Spike says the first complaint registered with NYS on PAUSE  for Himrod Farm Supply’s employees not wearing masks was in May with others in June and July. 

“At first the Town of Milo Code Enforcement Officer handled and did posting at the store and did education, and warnings, etc.,” says Spike. “Then he asked us to get involved because of the noncompliance.

“Counselling and warnings had been issued multiple times to this business by both town code enforcement and by Deputies in the past several weeks, and pause complaints from citizens continued with the latest this past weekend,” said Spike. A total of nine complaints were registered against Himrod Farm Supply.

“The Milo Code Enforcement Officer and Deputies made every effort for compliance to avoid the ticket issuance. The matter is now in local justice court with the District Attorney prosecuting.”

Yates County District Attorney Todd Casella reminds the public that the Public Health Law is a law, and this violation is punishable by a fine up to $1,000. A repeat offense can be up to $10,000. Hoover will appear in Milo Town Court July 23. 

“We took the position on all public health law violation per executive orders that we would not take enforcement action without the D.A’s approval.” says Spike. “It was decided that if multiple complaints existed, there may not be any other option left as Yates County Public Health was also involved and people were complaining to them as well that nothing was being done.” He adds, “This is not criminal but it is a civil type of action per the Public Health Law. A town justice may have other options for dispositions other than a fine.”

In the last 12 weeks, the YCSO have received 67 PAUSE complaints from the state at locations all over the county. As of Monday, June 20, Spike says other warning have been issued, but no other citations. “We continue to educate on social distancing, masking, and sanitation, etc.,” he says.

Individuals who violate this are subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation. For purposes of civil penalties, each day that there is a non-essential gathering or a business operates in a manner inconsistent with the code shall constitute a separate violation.

State steps up enforcement

Because businesses vary in the extent to which they are enforcing state-mandated face-covering and social-distancing policies, the N.Y. State Department of Health has increased the consequences for violations. The agency recently updated its emergency regulations to include a maximum $1,000 fine for businesses that allow patrons to enter or remain on their premises without wearing masks or practicing social distancing. The emergency measure also subjects non-compliant patrons to a maximum $1,000 fine per violation.

“Business operators and building owners, and those authorized on their behalf shall deny admittance to any person who fails to comply with (face-covering and social-distancing mandates) and shall require or compel such persons’ removal,” the regulation reads in part.

The fines would be issued after an investigation carried out either by the state or county health departments, said DOH spokesperson Erin Silk. A business charged with a violation would have an opportunity to request a hearing before an administrative law judge, she said.

Complaints alleging violations may be made on the state’s website or by calling 833-789-0470.

Silk added that law enforcement “is empowered to enforce these regulations as violations of the public health law.”