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Community weighs in on mask debate, so does deli owner

The Millerton News Editorial

There’s been a lot of chatter on social media in the Tri-state region, and especially in Millerton, about face masks in the past couple of weeks. In fact, more than 130 comments were posted on one Facebook page, plus nearly 100 emojis — and that’s just on a single page. Such has been the fallout after The Millerton News ran a front page article and editorial in our Dec. 10 edition on the Talk of the Towne Deli, located on Route 44 in Millerton, which is known locally to have taken an anti-mask stance during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s a follow-up article on this week’s front page; again, we hope you’ll take the time to read it. 

Its owners, Mary Hosier and her sister, Sandra Sherman, openly admit they don’t believe masks do much to keep people healthy or prevent COVID-19 from spreading. In interviews with this newspaper, Hosier described masks as dirty and ineffective. She questions their usefulness — and the science that’s proven people should wear them.

As reported on Dec. 10, Hosier’s deli was fined by the Dutchess County Department of Health (DOH) roughly three months ago when someone anonymously called in a tip that workers were violating Governor Andrew Cuomo’s mask mandate. Since that fine, workers at the deli now wear masks. 

The day our story hit the stands, on Thursday, Dec. 10, Hosier’s deli was actually given a clean bill of health by the DOH after it stopped by for a surprise inspection. It found workers wearing masks and the premises to be properly sanitized.

With that background, we’d like to reiterate what is both obvious and essential: Masks are key in the fight against the coronavirus. Even with vaccines now becoming available, masks will remain a requisite part of how we end this pandemic. For an excellent explanation of how masks work, please take a moment to read science reporter Tom Parrett’s guest column on this page. Trust us, it will be time well spent.

OK, back to the deli — here’s an update. Since our story and editorial broke, the deli’s business sign on its front lawn was vandalized. Initially, Hosier blamed our newspaper, but she quickly reversed her stance when she realized other businesses had seen their signs damaged in the past couple of weeks as well. In a follow-up interview with The Millerton News, she said, “We think it’s nothing against us personally.” 

We hope she’s right. There was a tremendous response to the coverage of the mask/anti-mask issue, as people feel very strongly about it after nearly a year of suffering through life under extremely difficult pandemic conditions: living in quarantine; the economy faltering; businesses shutting down; jobs disappearing; schools closing; relationships ending; foreclosures and evictions skyrocketing; social isolation pressing down on us; everyone missing family and friends; and, worst of all, seeing loved ones suffer through illness and death. 

Is it any wonder that people are on edge? When a hot-button issue like whether individuals are wearing face coverings during a global health crisis to help protect their fellow citizens is up for debate, concerned people are going to weigh in — and that’s just what they did. They did so on social media, through letters to the editor, even at the local diner — wherever they could share an opinion — they shared. 

We’re glad they did so, and hope they did so respectfully and thoughtfully. The majority of comments on Facebook and on our Opinion Page in our Dec. 17 issue appeared appropriate; many supported the deli and others supported the customers who spoke out against the deli for its anti-mask beliefs. Our goal was to present all sides of the issue fairly, which we believe we accomplished. Even Hosier acknowledged as much, despite getting backlash from “those people [who] only read what they want to read,” as she said herself.

Now the deli owner is hoping to move on, to focus on her business and to put the mask issue behind her.

“Why can’t we all just get along?” she asked. “I’m over this.”

And as she so pragmatically advised those who can’t “get over this” in the Dec. 10 article, if someone doesn’t approve of her anti-mask philosophy, they don’t have to support her deli.

In the meantime, Hosier said she’ll continue to insist her workers wear masks, if for nothing else than just to avoid another costly fine. DOH fines for violating the mask mandate start at $250 and can double on second violations, going as high as $1,000. 

As far as having customers abide the mask mandate, Hosier was less definite on that. She did say if she were to personally witness a hostile verbal exchange break out between customers, she would interfere.

One last thought, with The New York Times charting that deaths in the U.S. are predicted to rise in the coming weeks, as reported on Monday, Dec. 21, and that those deaths are likely to exceed 3,000 a day — a level so high it’s not been seen since the pandemic began — we need to take every precaution we can to prevent further spread of COVID-19 — including wearing masks. And that goes for all of us living here among the gentle pastures and rolling hills of the Harlem Valley just as much as it does for those living among the cloud-kissing skyscrapers and gravity-defying bridges of the Big Apple.

On that note, we hope you and yours are able to enjoy a safe, healthy and joyous holiday season to the extent possible under the current reality of today’s world.

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