WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) — The West Seneca town supervisor is not happy with Erie County’s mask mandate and said Saturday, it’s “an abuse of the rights of every person in Erie County.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced the mask mandate for all public, indoor facilities on Monday in response to rising COVID-19 infection numbers, and the order took effect the next day.

West Seneca Town Supervisor Gary Dickson said the mandate doesn’t address the need to increase hospital bed capacity. He added that Erie County has become “complacent” and available bed numbers have dropped.

He pointed to the conversion of hospitals and other buildings, like St.  Joseph’s Hospital, to specialized hospitals only treating COVID as a successful tactic in creating more bed space.

“Whatever the cause of the loss of hospital capacity, everything possible should be done immediately to reverse this trend, especially the requirement that hospital workers must be vaccinated or lose their jobs,” Dickson said. “The economic damage caused by the early lockdown and the damage to our children’s education may have been justified in 2020, but now, in the second year of the pandemic, the cost is too much. Any and all measures should be exhausted prior to bringing mandates back.”

He’s calling on Poloncarz to end the state of emergency and collaborate with local leaders to create a COVID-19 response plan that “recognizes the new reality – that COVID will be with us for a long time, that hospital capacity needs to increase immediately, and that mask and vaccine mandates are counterproductive and abusive of residents’ rights.”

He added, “A true leader has the confidence and humility to admit when mistakes are made.”

In a statement to News 4, Peter Anderson, press secretary to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “Erie County will continue to work closely with hospitals and with NYS to address capacity issues, which are real and can’t be ignored.”

Dickson provided this graph to News 4 from the United States Department of Health and Human Services

Earlier this week the Town of Marilla supervisor said the town will not comply with Erie County’s new mask mandate. Supervisor Earl Gingerich, Jr. told News 4, “The town will defend our businesses and residents’ right to make their own decisions.”

Here’s West Seneca Town Supervisor Dickson’s full statement:

The County Executive’s recent emergency order regarding masks does not address the root cause of the hospital utilization problem and is an abuse of the rights of every person in Erie County. Rather than use his emergency powers to increase hospital capacity to what it was earlier this year, he has decided to force the entire population of Erie County to wear masks and threatens to require proof of vaccination to enter an array of small businesses. 

In the beginning of the pandemic severe restrictions were implemented to “flatten the curve” so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed with patients. Hospital capacity was increased by converting St. Joseph’s Hospital to a specialized COVID hospital and opening other facilities was considered. These and other measures worked and the spread of COVID was slowed. 

Unfortunately, complacency set in, and since the beginning of this year the total number of inpatient beds in Erie County hospitals has dropped by over ten percent according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.[1] This has left the hospital system vulnerable to a rise in COVID cases, as we see today. If this drop in capacity had not occurred, the hospital system would not be stressed and there would be no reason for mandates.  

Whatever the cause of the loss of hospital capacity, everything possible should be done immediately to reverse this trend, especially the requirement that hospital workers must be vaccinated or lose their jobs. The economic damage caused by the early lockdown and the damage to our children’s education may have been justified in 2020, but now, in the second year of the pandemic, the cost is too much. Any and all measures should be exhausted prior to bringing mandates back. 

I am sure that the County Executive, like most of us, believed that the vaccines meant the end of the pandemic. As a result, American Rescue Plan money is being spent on non-COVID uses such as parks and staffing new positions, not on expanding hospital capacity. Unfortunately, the virus has proven to be more resilient than expected, and the vaccines are not as effective as hoped. But the county’s own data shows that the number of hospitalizations and deaths have not risen at the same rate as the number of new cases. This is good news. 

A true leader has the confidence and humility to admit when mistakes are made. I call on the County Executive to end the state of emergency and work with county legislators, city and village mayors, and town supervisors, to draft a COVID response plan that recognizes the new reality – that COVID will be with us for a long time, that hospital capacity needs to increase immediately, and that mask and vaccine mandates are counterproductive and abusive of residents’ rights.  

Patrick Ryan is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here.

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