County sheriffs across the Capital Region in recent days have said they do not plan to enforce Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest order that would limit household gatherings, including Thanksgiving, to 10 people.
In public statements and interviews, the sheriffs of Fulton, Schenectady and Saratoga counties on Monday all said it was not possible to enforce the governor’s order and that they did not plan to do so.
Fulton County Sheriff Rich Giardino, a former district attorney and judge, posted online Saturday that he thought the order was unconstitutional, unenforceable and a low priority for his department, declaring that his department would not enforce the limits.
“Who and how many people you invite into your home is your business,” Giardino wrote in the message. “We have limited resources and we have to set priorities, so obtaining a search warrant to enter your home to see how many Turkey or Tofu eaters are present is not a priority.”
Giardino argued the governor had more authority to impose restrictions on private businesses that fall under the oversight and regulation of different agencies, but that he went too far in attempting to impose a limit on how many people someone could host in their own home. He said he has received numerous calls from constituents concerned about whether he planned to enforce the limits and that he felt it was important to communicate that the limits would not be enforced by his deputies.
“My concern was people getting nervous and anxious thinking the police was going to come to their doorstep,” he said in a Monday interview. “I want people to be clear we won’t be watching how big a turkey you buy, we won’t be looking in your windows.”
Giardino emphasized the risks posed by COVID-19 and urged people to wear masks and distance, but he said ultimately it was up to individuals to decide what was best for them and their families during the holidays.
“I think people are mature enough, people are bright and intelligent enough to make their own decisions,” he said.
Cuomo last week announced that gatherings at private residences consisting of at least two households would be limited to no more than 10 people, while also rolling out new limitations on bars, restaurants and gyms. At the time of the new restriction, Cuomo highlighted a rise in cases associated with small household gatherings around Halloween. Health officials across the Capital Region have also identified small gatherings among family and friends as a major contributor to broader community spread of the virus.
Cuomo also explicitly pinned the responsibility for enforcing the new restrictions on local law enforcement.
“The rules are only as good as the enforcement,” Cuomo said last week. “Local governments are in charge of enforcement. There are only two fundamental truths in this situation: it’s individual discipline and it’s government enforcement…. I need the local governments to enforce this.”
But the local sheriffs said they didn’t know how to enforce such a sweeping limitation on activity inside private households – even if they wanted to enforce it.
Schenectady County Sheriff Dominic Dagostino on Monday said his department did not have the resources or staff to enforce the household gathering limits and did not know how they would try to enforce it if they did have the resources.
“I don’t think it’s logistically possible,” he said. “We’ve got 150,000 people in the county. How do you enforce it?”
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo on Monday released a statement saying he also had received numerous questions about whether his department would enforce the household limits: “The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office will not do so,” he said in the message.
“I can’t see how devoting our resources to counting cars in our citizens’ driveways or investigating how much turkey they’ve purchased is for the public good,” Zurlo said in the statement released Monday.
While Zurlo emphasized the risks of COVID-19 and urged residents take precautions, Monday’s announcement emphasized that the sheriff’s office “considers its citizens’ private residences sacrosanct and as always will respect this.”