BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — On Monday morning, hundreds of people gathered in downtown Buffalo to protest Erie County’s mask mandate.

Last month, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced that the mandate impacts public places like stores, bars and restaurants across the county

Close to 500 protesters turned up on the steps of the Rath Building chanting, ‘We will not comply’ They had marched down the middle of Court Street and Franklin Street from Niagara Square, children and their parents like Nicole DiMartino of West Seneca. “It’s just like a control thing just to have to wear masks and these kids, you can’t see expressions, kids like for that expression on their teachers face and if they’re doing good or not and to not see that smile on the kids faces, that’s a disservice to a lot of people.”

Catherine Broom has home-schooled her three children since Covid began. “It started with the masks and then it turned into vaccines and then it’s been one variant after the next that we can’t control that we don’t know what each variant does, then the vaccine is supposed to do something that it ends up not doing,” said Broom.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz considers them to be in minority. “I think most people get it and the vast majority of people understand the different situation we’re in. Public has a right to assemble, state their own opinion under the First Amendment and I would just note that it’s not the first protest that we’ve seen in our community and probably won’t be the last.”

One of the organizers of the event was Robby Dinero, an Orchard Park business owner who believes that there are far more people who oppose the mask mandate. “What you’re doing right now is emboldening somebody, somebody intimidated by the state, somebody that is afraid of repercussions and they aren’t ready to act out, you’re emboldening somebody else to join the fight.”

MORE | Erie County mask mandate for all indoor, public locations takes effect

MORE | Erie County Department of Health says it has received over 80 complaints about people not complying with mask mandate

George Richert is an award-winning reporter who first joined the News 4 team in 1998, later returning in 2018. See more of his work here.