LANCASTER, N.Y. — There is no question about who has been in charge of New York State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been front and center almost daily, and nearly as often, he announced new rules New Yorkers were expected to adhere to.
Because of special emergency powers granted by the state legislature, the governor could change state law or override a local law as he saw fit.
Then Wednesday, the state of emergency ended. “The emergency is over,” Cuomo said.
So, what happens to all of the remaining rules still posted on state government websites? Are they still in effect? State lawmakers who 2 On Your Side spoke with Thursday were not certain.
“There’s a lack of clarity, and I do think we should get more clarification from the executive branch. I’ll be reaching out to see if I can get a better answer for you,” Lancaster Assembly Member Monica Wallace (D-143) said.
State Senator Minority Leader Robert Ortt of Lockport (R-62) agreed that there has not been enough detail from the Governor’s Office.
“Some of that confusion is derived from the governor, really a lack of clarity from him and his administration,” Ortt said. “There’s no real discussion about what does the end of the state of emergency mean.”
After contacting the Governor’s Office and the New York State Department of Health seeking a clarification, 2 On Your Side turned to the Erie County Health Department. The local agency has had a hand in enforcing various COVID rules imposed by the Cuomo Administration.
Agency public information officer Kara Kane pointed out there was still “active guidance” for five industries on a state government website: fairs and festivals, large scale entertainment venues, K-12 schools, professional sports with fans, and public transportation.
When 2 On Your Side asked Kane whether the Erie County Health Department would not consider guidance for those industries as strong suggestions with the state of emergency over, Kane responded that in the county department’s opinion, the guidance was “instructions and minimum requirements that industries must follow to comply with state regulations.”
But an Albany attorney says enforcement now of state guidance may come down to whether local governments wish to enforce it.
“They certainly have the ability to decide, ‘We’re going to follow the guidance, and we’re going to enforce that guidance at the county level,’ ” said Allen Shoikhetbrod, a partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC.
Shoikhetbrod adds, in his legal opinion, Cuomo can only enforce COVID guidance that comes from the CDC.
Multiple efforts to get some sort of clarification from Governor Cuomo’s Office on Thursday on this did not result in new information being offered by the time this story was posted.