Newly-elected Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said he will defy Governor Kathy Hochul’s statewide mask mandates, halting enforcement for indoor venues while calling on individual school boards to craft their own policies about face coverings.

“We don’t need people in Albany telling us what we should be doing in Nassau County,” Blakeman said at a press conference Thursday. “The message is: the wearing of masks is optional.”

The move will likely set up a legal stand-off between Blakeman and Hochul, who ordered a mask mandate for schools over the summer, and recently reinstated a rule requiring indoor businesses to require either vaccinations or masks. The order fulfills a campaign pledge by the Republican official to ignore mask mandates, tapping into growing frustration with pandemic-related restrictions, but health experts warn such a move flies in the face of logic and will put people at risk.

Blakeman announced that businesses would not face fines for refusing to follow masking guidance, and that the mandate no longer applied to county workers.

He also signed an executive order requiring school boards across Nassau County to hold a vote this month on “whether or not parents and children should be granted the constitutional right to reject mask mandates while in the classroom.”

Asked about the order on Thursday, Hochul said Blakeman did not have the authority to override her guidelines.

"People who have more experience in county government would know that the state law prevails," she said at an unrelated press conference.

Blakeman, who narrowly beat the Democratic incumbent Laura Curran, pledged to ignore mask mandates on the campaign trail and claimed last month that the county’s high vaccination rates and available hospital beds made the policy unnecessary.

But as omicron continues to batter much of New York, COVID-19 rates on Long Island are now among the highest in the state, with positivity rates reaching nearly 25% in recent days.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of Columbia University's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, called Blakeman’s order “incomprehensibly reckless.”

“In the midst of a raging omicron surge, he is intentionally imposing unwarranted risk on the well-being and lives of children, teachers, staff and families of students throughout the county,” Redlener wrote in an email. “He has proposed precisely the kind of ignorance-based policy that has impeded our ability to get control of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

It’s also unclear what authority Blakeman has to overrule the state orders. During the press conference, he referred to “home rule,” a concept in New York’s constitution that is typically limited when it interferes with a state statute.

Despite flouting the mask mandate, Blakeman said that the county would continue its “very aggressive approach” to fighting the pandemic. He vowed to double the amount of free test kits available to residents and to hand out KN95 masks to any teachers who want them, with the goal of avoiding school closures.

This story has been updated with comment from Gov. Hochul.