CAPITAL REGION -- "Birthday parades" have been a way for community fire departments to thrill children, build public support, and get in some practice using their sirens.
Such fire truck parades have been happening in many communities through the two months of the pandemic.
That was up until Wednesday, when some small volunteer departments like the Fultonville Fire Department in Montgomery County posted on social media that they'd been told such parades are now prohibited as part of the state's response to the pandemic because they could cause crowds to gather.
"As of right now we will be putting all birthday parades on hold until we are told otherwise," the Fultonville department posted on social media Wednesday morning. "There is a lot of confusion and differing opinions on this subject and when we receive word we are able to do these again we will let everyone know."
Criticism of the idea that the state could have issued such a directive came quickly.
"This is an absolutely ridiculous directive by NYS Public Health," U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Saratoga, wrote on Twitter. "These fire dept voluntary birthday parades have brought so much joy to children & seniors alike who are celebrating milestones during this challenging time. Needs to be changed! Big government at its worst!"
Clarification came nearly as rapidly, and by late morning the Fultonville Fire Department said it would again offer such parades when it has the manpower available.
The bottom line: Vehicle parades are permitted, but anyone watching a parade needs to follow state guidelines to avoid spectators being considered a mass gathering -- a group of 10 people or more.
Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, responded to the criticisms on Twitter, saying vehicle parades are fine. He added that no executive order directly addresses a parade prohibition. "Let me be clear. Birthday car parades are not prohibited under any [emergency order]. These are dark times and we need joy where we can find it," he wrote.
Montgomery County Executive Matthew L. Ossenfort said the parades were allowed, as long as proper guidelines were followed.
"Any ceremony or event that would include gathering more than 10 people is considered by the state a mass gathering and not allowed," Ossenfort said in a statement. "However, auto parades/'drive-thru' events, such as birthday parties, are allowed given there isn't a gathering of more than 10 people at one time."
Ossenfort acknowledged there have been issues with people watching a parade with no distancing, leading to COVID-19 exposures.
The dust-up over parade distancing came a day after Cuomo, during his daily briefing on Tuesday, had said parades to honor veterans as part of Memorial Day celebrations were allowed, along with gatherings to honor veterans that involved fewer than 10 people.
"Vehicle parades I think are appropriate and should be encouraged and again, this is an important tradition," Cuomo said. "Many people lost their lives. This is important to many, many families all across this state and nation. It's important to the veterans that they be recognized and I think we can do that and I think we can do it safely."
Most community Memorial Day parades in the Capital Region -- and there are plenty -- were canceled weeks ago by local organizers.
However, "teacher parades," in which cars driven by school teachers cruise through neighborhoods with waves and encouraging signs for the students who can't attend closed schools, have become one of the unique and defining phenomena of this pandemic.