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Erie County businesses ordered to let patrons, employees wear protective gear

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has signed an executive order making it illegal for any local business to bar entry to customers wearing masks and gloves. The order also requires businesses to allow employees to wear such protective equipment.

Poloncarz signed the executive order under the authority granted to him by the county's State of Emergency status. The order takes effect at 3 p.m. Thursday and will remain in effect for the next five days. The order can also be renewed.

The county executive said the action is being taken in response to public complaints that some retailers and groceries are forbidding customers from coming into their stores if they are masked.

He also said he's heard that some employers are preventing their own employees from wearing personal protective equipment even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals wear face coverings over their noses and mouths to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Poloncarz's order also requires that businesses give their employees access to hand-washing facilities and provide the opportunity to wash their hands.

Poloncarz's order came just days after Buffalo Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen posted on his Facebook page that he had received several reports that workers such as cashiers and stock clerks at grocery stores were being told that they could not wear masks or gloves on the job.

Pridgen said he did not know if the information was true, but he asked people to notify his office with specific examples. Tops on Jefferson Avenue and Wegmans on Amherst Street were singled out.

But Michele Mehaffy, a Wegmans spokeswoman, said Wednesday it is not true that the company prohibits employees from wearing PPE on the job.

"Our employees are allowed to wear them," Mehaffy said. "They are not required to wear them, but if they want to they can wear them."

Tops also denied the claim.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, spokeswoman Kathy Sautter said employees are reminded that protective measures are available to them should they choose to use them, including gloves and hand sanitizer.

"In addition to the face shields that we are providing to all stores for associates who want to use them, if associates have their own fabric or paper face masks and choose to wear them, they are allowed to do so," Sautter said.

She added that Tops' regional vice president was planning to reach out to Pridgen "as we saw the (Facebook) post as well."

Pridgen posted Thursday afternoon that Tops did get in touch with him.

"Glad to report that Tops Market just reached out and they are allowing their workers to wear protection and even ordering PPE that should arrive soon," Pridgen posted. "I was told if you see employees without a mask it is not because they can’t."

Pridgen also had started an online petition and filed a resolution trying to force businesses to allow PPE. Now that Poloncarz has ordered it in Erie County, he said those efforts will continue in a bid to get statewide protections implemented.

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