Face mask order takes effect

The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday handed out 8,000 face masks to member organizations to help them comply with a new order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order, which took effect at 8 p.m. Wednesday, requires all essential businesses across the state to provide facial coverings to workers who deal with customers and the public.

Ibrahim Tariq

“Several clients are scrambling to try and procure face coverings to issue to their employees,” said Ibrahim Tariq, an associate at Harris Beach PLLC.

CloudCheckr founder and Chamber board member Aaron Newman donated 4,000 FDA-approved masks to the Chamber. The Chamber got 4,000 more from a donor who wants to remain anonymous. Chamber members each could get up to 20 masks on a first-come, first-served basis.

Firms in need of more than 20 masks were referred to Product Source Group, a local vendor offering masks for 59 cents each.

“We appreciate Aaron Newman’s very generous donation. I know a lot of people had a very difficult time ordering masks. There have been backlogs of orders both in the United States and in China. These were a godsend,” said Bob Duffy, Chamber president and CEO.

Robert Duffy

Duffy suggested that companies seek a long-term face mask supplier, possibly for masks that can be sanitized and reused.

“I believe we’re going to be in this mode for a long time. This is not going to stop June 1,” Duffy said. “I would say, throughout this summer, fall, even next winter, we might be wearing masks when going to restaurants or public places, or at work.”

Duffy noted, in countries in the later stages of the pandemic, such as South Korea, most people wear face masks in public.

“This could be a new reality for us, and it’s probably something that we should keep a supply of,” he said.

According to Cuomo’s order issued on Sunday, “Any employees who are present in the workplace shall be provided and shall wear face coverings when in direct contact with customers or members of the public.

“Businesses must provide, at their expense, such face coverings for their employees. This provision may be enforced by local governments or local law enforcement as if it were an order pursuant to … the Public Health Law.”

Cuomo’s order does not mandate the use of medical-grade masks or respirators, just “face coverings,” which aligns with the state Health Department’s guidance saying that cloth face coverings can be made from household items or common low-cost items.

Experts say that essential businesses should immediately identify which members of their workforce interface with customers or the general public and make sure the employees have face coverings.

Tariq said some client employers were confused about whether they would need to provide medical grade masks.

“But the executive order does not specify a medical grade covering. It just says a face covering,” he said. “The state Department of Health issued guidance just a few days earlier that specified that face coverings can be fashioned from materials that you would find at home, just simple cloth, not necessarily something that employers would need to mass order from a medical supplier.”

Employers also are asking about which employees are required to wear face coverings.

“The order limits it to those employees who interface with the public or have direct contact with customers, but I suppose that’s somewhat easier said than done,” Tariq said.

Employees who don’t usually deal with customers or members of the general public might have to occasionally do so.

“The going caution is to provide them more liberally than to be strict on who it’s issued to,” he said. “At the very least, the order makes it clear that when customers or members of the general public are involved, at that point it is a requirement, no questions asked.”

Another issue waiting for clarification is how the phrase “direct contact” should be interpreted.

“We’re hoping for additional guidance from the governor’s office on that exact question,” Tariq said.

For now, he advises that any employee who comes within six feet of a customer or a member of the public should wear a mask or face covering.

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Hickey Freeman making masks for Rochester General Hospital

Hickey Freeman Tailored Clothing is set to begin production of protective face masks for the medical staff at Rochester General Hospital, the Rochester manufacturer said Tuesday.

Stephen Granovsky
Stephen Granovsky

“We have hundreds of the best sewing machine operators in the country. When Rochester General made the request, of course, we answered the call. We will do whatever it takes,” HFTC CEO Stephen Granovsky said in a statement. “This is a small contribution compared to the health care workers we are helping protect.”

The North Clinton Avenue factory is manufacturing with an initial on-site staff, which will grow as needed, officials said. The plant had closed temporarily amid the COVID-19 pandemic to protect employees, but new practices for distance and disinfection are being implemented to protect the staff brought back to make the masks.

RGH uses some 15,000 masks each day and that number could increase due to the pandemic, according to the statement. Hospital personnel worked with Jeffery Diduch, vice president of technical design for HFTC, to create a protective mask that can be used by their staff.

Since announcing the initiative on social media last weekend, Hickey Freeman has received responses from more than 7,000 volunteers. The company is considering expanding its capacity by producing at-

A Hickey Freeman worker making masks for Rochester General Hospital. (Photo provided)
A Hickey Freeman worker making masks for Rochester General Hospital. (Photo provided)

home kits for volunteers who have the skills and ability to contribute.

“I expected there would be people in the community who would want to help, but the response has exceeded anything I could have imagined,” Diduch said. “In this time of crisis, Americans are ready to do what they can. It’s truly inspiring.”

HFTC, a luxury menswear brand, has called Rochester home for more than 120 years. The company is owned by Grano Retail Holdings, a company founded by Granovsky in 2007 to acquire merchandising businesses with growth opportunities.

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