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Some New York sheriffs say they'll refuse to enforce limit on Thanksgiving gatherings

Sheriffs in upstate counties said they will not adhere to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive order.
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After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week that indoor gatherings at private residences must be limited to 10 people, a handful of sheriffs across the state have said they won't enforce the order.

The holiday season — including Thanksgiving next week — dangerously coincides with a resurgence of Covid-19 cases throughout the state, a dire situation that Cuomo said Monday can be alleviated through the "smart behavior of New Yorkers" and by local governments' enforcing Covid-19 restrictions.

However, in recent days, sheriffs in some upstate counties have come out against the order, saying they won't use police resources to enforce the 10-person cap on Thanksgiving gatherings at private residences.

"Who and how many people you invite [into] your home is your business," Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino wrote in a viral Facebook post Sunday, adding that he'll leave it up to the people in his county to make the right decisions on their own and that entering homes to "see how many Turkey or Tofu eaters are present" isn't a priority for his office.

"The Fulton County Sheriff's Office will NOT be enforcing it against our County residents," he wrote.

According to the state Health Department's Covid-19 tracker, Fulton County reported a 1.2 percent positivity rate among residents tested for the coronavirus Sunday. Statewide, the positivity rate continues to rise sharply, in tandem with increased hospitalizations. As of Tuesday, the positivity rate in the state had reached 3.1 percent. The World Health Organization recommends that governments keep test positivity rates under 5 percent.

Giardino wrote that the order may even be unconstitutional: "Frankly, I am not sure it could sustain a Constitutional challenge in Court for several reasons including your house is your castle. And as a Sheriff with a law degree I couldn't in good faith attempt to defend it [in] Court, so I won't."

In Erie County, where 272 new positive Covid-19 cases were included Monday in its total of 18,018, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said in a statement Friday: "I have no plans to utilize my office's resources or Deputies to break up the great tradition of Thanksgiving dinner.

"This national holiday has created longstanding family traditions that are at the heart of America, and these traditions should not be stopped or interrupted by Governor Cuomo's mandates," Howard wrote. "My office will respect the sanctity of your home and traditions, and I encourage you to follow your heart and act responsibly, as well as do what's best for your family."

Nine people in Erie County died Sunday of Covid-19, more than in any other county in New York, according to numbers from the governor's office.

Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo joined the list of defiant sheriffs Monday with a news release telling residents his office will prioritize other 911 calls.

"We have seen an increase in a variety of call types and have to prioritize," Zurlo said. "I can't see how devoting our resources to counting cars in citizens' driveways or investigating how much turkey and dressing they've purchased is for the public good."

Zurlo said his office "considers its citizens' private residences sacrosanct and as always will respect this." In response to numerous inquiries about whether his office will enforce Cuomo's order, he said, "the Saratoga County Sheriff's Office will not do so."

Saratoga County recorded 47 new positive coronavirus cases Monday, according to the state Health Department.

The sheriffs of Fulton, Erie and Saratoga counties didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The governor's office hasn't commented on the sheriffs and others who have spoken out against the order.

In announcing the executive order last week, Cuomo said: "The rules are only as good as the enforcement. 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. Period. End of sentence. I need the local governments to enforce this."

The executive order included a slew of other Covid-19 restrictions, including those on bars, restaurants and gyms throughout the state.