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New York sheriff defies Gov. Cuomo’s Thanksgiving order, says deputies will not enforce it

Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino. Credit: Facebook.

Wendy Liberatore

Times Union, Albany, N.Y.

Nov. 16—JOHNSTOWN — Concern that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Thanksgiving executive order is overreach and is “scaring the hell out of people,” Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said that his deputies will not be enforcing the 10-person limit at Thanksgiving meals.

On Sunday, Giardino said Cuomo’s order is unconstitutional and what “people do in their homes is private” and not in the purview of law enforcement.

“People have enough anxiety in their life without thinking that the police are going to come to their door and check on how many people are there,” the Republican sheriff said. “But they hear it on TV and think if they add in grandma, they are going to be arrested.”

But with COVID-19 cases surging across the state, Cuomo on Thursday announced that the state is limiting Thanksgiving gatherings to 10 “to slow the spread.”

“We know indoor gatherings and parties are a major source of COVID spread,” the governor tweeted.

The state Department of Health COVID tracker shows that on Sunday Fulton County reported 1.2 percent of people taking the test turned out positive. The Mohawk Valley, in which Fulton County is a part, was tied with Western New York for having the highest positivity test rate Saturday of all regions statewide at 4.6 percent. The number went down to 2 percent, at the Capital Region’s level, on Sunday.

Giardino’s announcement that he won’t enforce compliance with the order, which Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard has also done, has been criticized by the governor’s office as playing politics with people’s lives.

“Politicians acting like politicians and ignoring what the actual experts say has been fueling the spread of this virus is what plunged this country in this continued public health crisis in the first place,” Rich Azzopardi, senior advisor to the governor, said. “We urge everyone to continue to be smart and act responsibly. We know this makes people unhappy, but better unhappy then sick or worse.”

When asked if he’s concerned about the spread, Giardino said that only 28 people died so far in the county and most at a private nursing home. He also said that most people who get the virus recover and that it’s only a deadly concern for the elderly, the obese and those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes and autoimmune disorders. But he said, because COVID-19 can be fatal, “state legislators have given the governor …. carte blanche to control it.”

Criticizing Cuomo is not new for Giardino. He’s has complained about many of Cuomo’s actions including the Safe Act gun control law, as well as police and bail reform. Giardino also expressed his opinion about Thanksgiving in a long Facebook post in which he called 2020 “the most chaotic year.”

“Between the CV19, job furloughs, or loss of jobs, interference in education and every other activity,” he wrote. “The riots and civil unrest which have cost millions of dollars and damaged or destroyed thousands of businesses and injured multiple people.”

In the post, Giardino also quoted Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple who said “It’s sometimes in the messaging, most people will respond better when asked; not told to do something. Especially when it comes to reducing the spread of CV19 and saving lives.”

On Sunday, Apple acknowledged he said that, but he said he doesn’t want to get involved in Giardino’s dispute with Cuomo.

“It’s turning into a Republican versus Democrat thing,” Apple said. “The virus is not a joke. He feels the governor can’t tell us how to do things. But the governor’s trying to do the right thing. The last thing we want to be doing is getting together in large gatherings and spreading the virus.”

Apple said that his deputies have gotten calls about large gatherings and have gone to check on them. But he does not expect to get calls on Thanksgiving day.

Meanwhile, Giardino said if his deputies went door-to-door to monitor Thanksgiving tables, the county would be bogged down in “frivolous lawsuits.”

“I don’t view this as political, I view it as common sense,” Giardino said. “People have common sense. They are not going to jeopardize family members. They are not going to jeopardize close friends. Most people respect the masks. … Basically, as a lawyer, former DA and judge, if I got brought into court, I can’t justify it constitutionally. The threat is not so great that we should be limiting who they can have for Thanksgiving.”


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