LAKE GEORGE — Owners of nearly a dozen of the village’s bars and restaurants met virtually Monday to discuss concerns about enforcing the state’s COVID-19 protocols — particularly the mandate that requires people to wear face coverings in areas where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.
The meeting comes as the state seeks to clamp down on businesses that aren’t complying with state COVID-19 guidelines.
In Lake George, a number of complaints have been voiced about bars and restaurants since they were allowed to reopen last month, most pertaining to overcrowding and a failure to follow social distancing guidelines, said Mayor Robert Blais, who organized the meeting.
“The majority of the complaints that we’ve been getting in the Village Hall ... has been mostly in the segments of the restaurants and the bars,” he said.
But overcrowding wasn’t much of a concern for business owners on the call. Crowds have died down since their initial reopening phase and the adoption of better protocols to enforce the state’s capacity restrictions, they said.
But they’ve had some difficulties enforcing the state’s mask mandate, which requires all customers to wear face coverings when they’re not seated, business owners said.
The mandate — handed down earlier this year through an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — excludes anyone with a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering.
Business owners expressed concerns on how to enforce the policy without violating customers’ privacy.
Patricia Dow, whose family operates the Lake George Steamboat Co. and the Boardwalk Restaurant, raised concerns about how to enforce the state’s mask-mandate when people have an invisible medical condition.
“How do you deal with that when it’s not a visible disability?” she asked.
Asking if someone has a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask butts up against privacy laws, putting business owners in a tricky spot.
Dan Barusch, the village’s director of zoning and planning, said those with medical conditions may have some form of documentation but urged business owners to exercise their best judgment when enforcing the policy.
A number of fake medical exemption cards have been circulating online in recent weeks, he said.
“I would say just use your best judgment in terms of allowing someone to continue on without the mask,” Barusch said.
Blais urged restaurants owners to contact the Sheriff’s Office if they encounter someone unwilling to comply with the mask requirement.
Showing fake exemptions
Some businesses have come up with ways to respect any potential medical conditions while addressing safety concerns.
The Lake George Beach Club has been handing out plastic face shields to anyone claiming to have a medical condition.
“We had a few people with a fake sign that says ‘I have a disability’ — they found it online,” Jose Filomeno, the restaurant’s manager, said.
“I said ‘fine’ and gave them a face shield and they gave me the finger and walked out.”
Lake George attracts thousands of people from other states who aren’t necessarily aware of the guidelines New York has in place, Blais said.
“We’re faced with dealing with people from not all over the country but even all over the world,” he said.
Joe Mondella, who co-owns The Lagoon on Canada Street, suggested the village create a placard that restaurant and bar owners can display, alerting customers to the guidelines.
The village recently hired a COVID-19 inspector to ensure all businesses are complying.
“It would be great to have something sealed and official that says these are the rules, we’ve been inspected and here’s what you need to follow,” Mondella said.
Blais approved of the idea and said it is something he will look into.