Williamsville Mayor Deb Rogers and two fellow trustees this week compared the effects of a state Covid-19 rule to the treatment of Jews under Nazi Germany, forced relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II and oppression of citizens under communist rule in China.
Rogers, Deputy Mayor Dave Sherman and Trustee Matt Carson tied the regulation to some of the worst human-rights violations of the 20th century during Monday’s contentious Village Board meeting.
The Village Board voted 3-2 to formally condemn the emergency state Health Department rule that lays out isolation and quarantine procedures for New Yorkers suspected of having Covid-19 or another infectious disease.
“This is exactly, exactly what we saw happening in communist China, where people were being taken from their homes, against their will, and placed into quarantine camps,” said Rogers, who introduced the resolution, the latest of her objections to Covid-19 mandates put in place by the state or Erie County.
Trustee Christine Hunt, in response, said the regulation is a temporary rule intended to limit the spread of Covid-19 and said Rogers’ resolution misrepresented its terms and effects.
“It’s not a violation of rights at all,” Hunt said.
Rogers and her allies have frequently debated, or pushed back against, the mask mandate and other Covid-19 regulations in recent months.
One trustee, Matthew Etu, resigned in January over what he called Rogers’ “toxic” conduct and the vitriol directed at board members from people in the audience at some meetings.
Later in January, Erie County fined the village $300 after Rogers and others attending the Jan. 10 Village Board meeting did not wear face masks.
Rogers’ latest criticism centers on state Health Department rules concerning who needs to isolate or quarantine, and for how long, if they have contracted or been exposed to a highly communicable disease such as Covid-19.
Those infected with Covid-19, with or without symptoms, should isolate to limit the risk of spreading the virus to someone else, according to the regulations. People who are close contacts to someone with Covid-19 but who haven’t themselves tested positive should quarantine.
An emergency rule took effect April 22 and grants the state health commissioner the ability to issue isolation or quarantine orders, “consistent with due process of law,” and spells out specifics on the location, duration and enforcement of the orders.
Rogers’ resolution decries the order as giving one person – Health Commissioner Mary Bassett – power “to decide the fate of 19 million New Yorkers.” She said the rule is an example of executive overreach and should have been left to the State Legislature to approve.
Republican lawmakers agree with Rogers. State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, whose district covers a swath of the Southern Tier, joined several colleagues in a lawsuit last month that cites similar concerns in seeking to overturn the rule.
The state Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. The rule states anyone subject to isolation or quarantine has a right to seek judicial review of the order.
At Monday’s Village Board meeting, five audience members spoke in favor of Rogers’ resolution. Nia Bates, a village resident, wondered how the commissioner would determine who is a risk and how those people would be removed or detained.
“This is crazy. I mean, where are we going? Are we wearing jumpsuits? Are we in chains?” Bates said.
Her husband, Jeremy, speaking later, said, “Evil prevails only when good people do nothing. And, so, what can we do? Right now, in our small village, we can write something that opposes this ludicrous regulation.”
Sherman, a former Amherst town historian, said, “History is a great teacher.”
He went on to quote a passage describing what happened to Jewish residents of the Netherlands following the Nazi invasion and occupation beginning in 1940.
“That, folks, is from the diary of Anne Frank,” Sherman said, referring to the teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Hunt, for her part, described the rule as a “common sense” measure that will be reviewed again after several months.
“This is nothing new. So, things like this were put in place for tuberculosis, Ebola, the measles outbreak in Goshen seven years ago – things have been put in place to protect the health and safety of the public,” Hunt said.
Carson, though, piggy-backed on Sherman’s historical comparison.
“This reminds me a lot what you said, but in World War II, the internment camps that were done … for the Japanese. Same, same kind of thing, right? They just rounded up people who were potential enemies of the state and put them in camps (with) no due process,” Carson said.
Trustee Eileen Torre joined Hunt in voting no, saying she had concerns about the wording of Rogers’ resolution.
Sherman, further explaining his vote, said, “When I first heard about this, it’s all I could think of was – and maybe this is extreme – but I can’t imagine those poor people in the early 1940s who had their door broken down and their kids taken away from them.”
He added, “I don’t want to be part of something where you can be removed from society. What country is this?”
Hunt replied, “Like we do to immigrants that try to come here for asylum?”
Sherman responded, “That’s neither here nor there,” while an audience member said, “Good try.”
Rogers said she believes the rule gives Bassett the right to order the Amherst police to remove village residents, and their children if necessary, from their homes.
“That is the reality of it, whether you want to bury your head in the sand on that or not,” Rogers said. “And I will just say that I’m embarrassed to be sitting up here with two trustees, who I will say are nothing short of communists in their ability to vote no.”
“With all due respect, please stop referring to Eileen and I as communists,” Hunt said.
The village will send copies of the resolution to the county and state Health Departments and to Gov. Kathy Hochul but the vote otherwise has no practical effect.
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