December 2, 2021

Partying? File COVID protocols

Beginning Aug. 25, hosts of events with 50 or more people in Cortland must complete a COVID protocol application after the Cortland Common Council passed a resolution Tuesday.

The resolution — endorsing an executive order by Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin — requires any gathering where there were 50 or more participants from Aug. 25 to Sept. 15 to complete an application with the city that would provide written COVID protocols of the event, according to the resolution.

“The requirements would include a plan for enforcement of masking indoors regardless of vaccination status, and outdoors, following CDC COVID protocols,” the resolution states.

A year ago, students in Oneonta and Oswego threw large parties at the start of the school year that created super-spreader events and led to hundreds of COVID-19 cases. Later, a similar party by SUNY Cortland students on Tompkins Street led to similar fears.

Exemptions could be made upon request to the mayor, though exemptions would have to be supplemented with other COVID-19 related safeguards. Violations could lead up to a class B misdemeanor, Corporation Counsel Ric VanDonsel said.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone wants this to happen but unfortunately, it is happening,” said Deputy Mayor John Bennett (D-4th Ward).

Tobin was absent from the meeting.

“As a city, as a responsibility to our constituents to everybody who comes to the city, we have an obligation to help protect them,” Bennett said. “Hopefully, hopefully one day this will all be over.”

The original resolution said violations could lead to a Class B felony, which could lead to a prison sentence of one to three years, though VanDonsel said during the meeting that it should be amended to a Class B misdemeanor, which holds a sentence to one-year maximum in jail.

Before the meeting, Tobin said the resolution was created in response to the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, along with the start of school for K-12 and college students along with people returning after the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“These are all things that could all lead to spikes in the number of COVID cases,” he said. The city won’t step up enforcement to crack down on large gatherings.

“I’m optimistic we’re not going to have to worry about enforcement as people will do the right thing,” he added.

Additionally, Tobin said that if the city isn’t comfortable with event planners’ responses to the application, the city will make recommendations.

As for the potential punishment for violations, Tobin said the risk for hosting a large event without property safety plans during the pandemic is too great.

“If someone has a large gathering, they are putting themselves and others in the community at risk and that’s a problem,” he said.

The Common Council could look to continue the enforcement past Sept. 15 by considering an extension on Sept. 7, Tobin said.

The form will be posted on the city’s website and will be available to pick up from the clerk’s office at City Hall.