CANTON — The group of St. Lawrence County officials tasked with enforcing social distancing measures are stepping up efforts as the number of complaints about violations have spiked dramatically.
Speaking Monday at the St. Lawrence legislature meeting, Administrator Ruth A. Doyle said the county had received 106 reports of social distancing violations in the prior week, almost a third of all reports so far. She said most of the reports were for individuals not wearing masks in public spaces and failing to keep six feet of distance. Walmart, Lowes, Dollar General and Price Chopper locations have each been the subject of multiple reports.
“Our approach has been both to educate and raise awareness about what the requirements are and as we move through the changes of the phases, to make sure that these organizations are aware of what’s required,” Ms. Doyle told the legislature Monday.
She said part of that approach has involved letters being sent from the county attorney and in a few cases physical visits by the Sheriff’s Department.
“Although St. Lawrence County is in Phase IV, we must continue to be diligent and adhere to the safety precautions when in public or at local businesses,” Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe said in a news release Wednesday.
Pointing out legal responsibilities, enforcement power and rights to deny service have been at the core of County Attorney Stephen D. Button’s approach in working with local businesses to enforce social distancing. He pointed out certain wording in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive orders that mandate people wear masks when they can’t social distance, such as on a trip to the grocery store.
Mr. Button asserts the executive orders only give the authority to businesses to require masks be worn by patrons, but does not outright require it.
“When we go to the businesses, I try to educate them about their ability,” Mr. Button told the legislature. “They can directly deny service. They can require temperature checks without the prospect of having allegations that they have denied services unduly. But outside of that, it leaves us in a difficult situation.”
Mr. Button added that businesses are required to ensure their employees are wearing masks and that his office would take appropriate action regarding complaints of those situations.