SCHENECTADY — They came, noshed on hors d’oeuvres, mingled with cocktails and stood around staring at televisions waiting for returns to come in.
It would all been regular election night fare except for the chyron rolling across the bottom of the screen:
The U.S. recorded 91,500 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, the second-highest single-day tally to date, according to Johns Hopkins data, and the seven-day average of daily new cases now stands at 86,362, a 20 percent increase over last week’s levels, CNBC reported.
Yet that didn’t stop roughly 150 people from attending an Election Night party at River Stone Manor in Schenectady for Liz Joy, the Republican candidate who unsuccessfully sought to topple Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
While employees wore face coverings, few attendees did so, many of whom walked around and socialized with drinks in tightly-packed groups, an apparent violation of state directives requiring patrons to be seated while drinking.
Gatherings are also capped at 50 people.
Video shot by the Daily Gazette and posted to social media ignited a round of criticism.
“Liz Joy holding a super spreader event before she loses by 20 points,” wrote Brendan Savage, a Siena College student who is active in city Democratic politics, on Twitter.
(Joy is down by 13 points, and has not conceded to Tonko, contending all votes should be counted.)
Others responded by tagging the state Liquor Authority and state Department of Health.
The River Stone Manor didn’t return an email and phone call seeking comment on Wednesday.
Joy didn’t directly address a list of apparent violations by attendees.
“The Riverstone Manor followed and abided by all state COVID protocol,” Joy said. “Tables were 6 Ft apart. All waiter/waitress staff wore masks. Appropriate food amounts were served with all refreshments.”
Schenectady County Republican Committee Chairman Chris Koetzle made a brief appearance, but said he wasn’t there long enough to observe the situation.
“I stopped in to wish her well, had a drink and came back home,” Koetzle said.
While only a handful of attendees wore masks, Koetzle said the venue did require face coverings for entry.
“They had someone at the door ensuring you had a mask on when you came in,” Koetzle said. “In fact, they turned someone away and I was comfortable with that.”
Election Day arrived at a time when the nation continues to struggle to bring the pandemic under control and health experts have warned the nation to brace for a dramatic spike in cases.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert, told the Washington Post on Saturday.
Fauci continued: “It’s not a good situation. All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
While New York state has kept the infection rate low — the state has the third-lowest positivity rate in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins data — hospitalizations are surging.
Statewide, hospitalizations saw a one-day increase of 6.6 percent between Monday and Tuesday alone.
And in the Capital Region, daily hospitalizations leapt from 15 on Sept. 27 to 96 on Tuesday, a 540 percent increase, according to state data.
Amid the worsening climate, many political campaigns sought to forego the age-old ritual of gathering in ballrooms watching the returns come in.
Yet Joy was unique among local candidates in having a large-scale event without any calls for social distancing.
Bucking the trend largely carved out along party lines, but even Republican campaigns who did hold in-person events stressed CDC guidelines.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, celebrated a decisive fourth-term victory at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls, an outdoor event attended by state Assemblyman-elect Matthew Simpson and state Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who won the open Senate seat being vacated by state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury.
But social distancing and face coverings were mandatory, as they were at state Assembly hopeful Dave Catalfamo’s event at Saratoga Lake Golf Club in Saratoga Springs.
State Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-Schoharie, held a small in-person event at his Cobleskill campaign headquarters, where photos on social media revealed state directives were being followed.
State Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston Spa, opted to stay home. So did state Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, who secured a second term.
Across the political aisle, Tonko opted to address reporters via a Zoom call on Tuesday night, while Tedisco opponent Thearse McCalmon also utilized the software for a virtual watch party.
Stefanik opponent Tedra Cobb, a Democrat, held an event at a motel in St. Lawrence County, but stressed CDC directives and kept press sequestered in another room.
Joy has been sharply critical of the Cuomo’s administration’s response to the pandemic and the advisory for Tuesday’s event made no reference to COVID guidelines.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has regularly condemned large-group gatherings and has chastised bars for flouting regulations, regularly announcing venues that have had their liquor licenses temporarily suspended.
Asked if there were exemptions for private and political events, the state Department of Health on Wednesday pointed at the 50-person cap on large gatherings, and the mandate requiring people to wear masks if they can’t maintain a six-foot distance between others.
Localities are tasked with enforcement.
Two complaints about the party came into the county from the state’s online complaint form, said a county spokesperson on Wednesday.
Koetzle said while he wasn’t involved in planning for the event, there is some ongoing ambiguity about the state guidelines.
“There’s a lot of confusion,” he said.