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COVID motion brings praise, objections

Submitted Photo Mel McGinnis of Frewsburg speaks during the legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting.

By GREGORY BACON

gbacon@observertoday.com

A motion by a newly elected legislator to have Chautauqua County follow the best practices to overcome COVID-19 has brought a wide range of opinions.

Last week, Legislator Susan Parker, D-Fredonia, told the OBSERVER and Post-Journal that she was prefiling a motion to encourage the county to follow state and federal measures to fight the virus which has killed more than 800,000 Americans and continues to infect and cause great health harm, especially to those who are unvaccinated.

Motions hold no legal weight, but are designed to give a position held by a governing body. The motion did not call for any new fines or penalties.

On Wednesday, the motion was brought before the legislature’s Human Services Committee. Along with Parker, Legislators Robert Bankoski, D-Dunkirk, Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point, Dan Pavlock, R-Sinclairville, Elisabeth Rankin, R-Jamestown and Lisa Vanstrom, R-West Ellicott, were all listed as co-sponsors of the motion.

As the meeting began, committee Chairman Pavlock read a statement issued by Legislature Chairman Chagnon saying that masks are recommended to be worn while in the legislative chambers, however, the county will not mandate people to wear them.

After Pavlock spoke, three people from the public addressed the committee during the privilege of the floor, all objecting to the motion.

First to speak was Mel McGinnis of Frewsburg. He questioned the motion’s goal of best practices. “Who determines ‘best’ because the medical field is not on the same page. The government is, but those that are independent, those that are being suppressed, those that are being told hush up, those that are being kicked out of their practice are not given the same level of visibility that those in the CDC are,” he said.

Others who spoke out against the motion included Cheryl Fiedler of Ellery and Karen Engstrom of the town of Chautauqua. Fiedler accused the government of withholding medicines like Ivermectin, while Engstrom said she believes officials are suppressing freedom for security.

Later, Bree Agett with the county Heath Department was asked to explain the department’s responsibilities and duties. She noted the county focuses primarily on outreach and education. They only issue fines and/or cease and desist orders when absolutely necessary. Investigations are mainly complaint driven.

“We’re not out there policing per se, but we are we are responding with the goal of protecting the public to the best of our ability,” she said.

Agett said they follow the state Health Department and the Centers for Disease Control for guidance.

“Both of those institutions do the research and they look at the body of evidence, and not one specific study, that may be taken to determine what the best practices might be regarding any element of COVID-19, whether it’s masking, or treatment, or isolation and quarantining. It’s looking at the entire body of evidence that comes from peer reviewed scientific articles that are produced in the scientific community,” she said.

She said they also work with their medical partners in the community to determine best practices for Chautauqua County.

Legislator Paul Whitford, D-Jamestown, said he doesn’t believe the proposed motion takes away any freedoms or forces anyone to do anything against their will. “All of the verbiage is to recommend and encourage. I don’t see anything in here that takes anyone’s rights away,” he said.

Rankin said she liked how the motion supports the county’s Department of Health. “I don’t think there’s a single one of us who wouldn’t say we support them and the amount of work that everybody in that department has done during the last couple of years during COVID,” she said.

However, legislator Marty Proctor R-Findley Lake said he doesn’t think he can support the motion as written. “I do believe in the freedom of choice that people have and I’d like to see that somewhat reflected in this motion as well,” he said.

The committee did not vote on the motion, which is standard practice. Members did not vote on a motion to proclaim February Black History Month in the county, which was also on the agenda.

If there are enough signatures on the motion, it will go before the full legislature next week. After the meeting during a phone interview Pavlock said that Chagnon, Harmon and Rankin have all pulled their names from sponsoring the motion. Pavlock said he is keeping his name on it but hasn’t determined yet if he is in favor of it.

At least 13 of the 19 legislators will need to vote in favor of the motion for it to pass.

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