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Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office Ignoring Cuomo’s Thanksgiving Party Limit Sets a Dangerous Precedent (Opinion)

The sheriff's office put out an official release on November 16, saying that it wouldn't be enforcing the governor's "10 people or fewer" rule this Thanksgiving.

Earlier this week, the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department announced that it would not be enforcing Governor Cuomo's "10 people or fewer" rule on Thanksgiving.

Just like the rest of humanity, I’ve been holed up in my home office since mid-March due to the ever-present deadly pandemic. I spend the majority of my mornings and afternoons in my modest home office in Troy, surrounded by pictures of my wife, recently published issues of Saratoga Living/Capital Region Living and stacks of books I’m either reading or pretending to read. I don’t really have it all that bad, and I know that a lot of people out there do. I feel lucky to be here, day in and day out.

As comfortable as I may appear to be, I still think things suck right now—worse than they ever have in my entire life. Sure, there were those two successive summers when I was bullied mercilessly at camp and the time I got a life-threatening stomach bug while living in China, but right now trumps those situations by a longshot. Yes, if I want to get in my car and drive 35 minutes north to my hometown of Saratoga Springs, I can do that any day. My parents still live there, too, and it’s nice to drop in and see them from time to time. But nowadays, I mostly choose not to, because I believe that spending frivolous time, even in the city I love, with the people I love, is dangerous and potentially, deadly. In very clear terms, I could potentially die or kill my parents because of my presence, outdoors, in Saratoga right now. (Note: I will be joining them for a socially distanced Thanksgiving dinner—but it’ll only be me, my wife and my parents.)

The reasons I believe this mostly hinge on science, data and common sense. I’ve been diligently following the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. Back when the COVID positivity rate was under one percent, I remember the governor repeating over and over and over again that if it ever went over that line again, things would start getting dangerous, and the state would need to think about shutting things down. (As of me writing this piece, Saratoga County’s positivity rate is at 1.89 percent and rising, and the City of Saratoga has the second-highest total number of COVID cases, just a few more than Clifton Park.) Then, last week, like clockwork, when the positivity rate crested one percent and kept increasing, Cuomo announced a number of dial-back restrictions, placing a curfew on restaurants, bars and gyms; and reducing the number of people allowed at house parties to 10 people or fewer (that is, unless you had 10 or more people in your family).

Now, we’re here—and on a highway to the danger zone—and some people still don’t seem to get it. One person that doesn’t seem to get it is Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo, who on Monday (November 16), announced that his office would not be enforcing Cuomo’s 10 persons or fewer restriction. “I can’t see how devoting our resources to counting cars in our citizens’ driveways or investigating how much turkey and dressing [note: that’s Upstate New York for “stuffing”] they’ve purchased is for the public good,” said Zurlo in an official statement. (Ironically, per the office’s website, one service the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office does offer is checking in on residents’ homes when they’re empty—like in Home Alone.) The reason given? Because of “an increase in a variety of call types,” which one can only intuit means a rise in crime at the moment. (This, sadly, is true.) The release went on to say that people’s homes are “sacrosanct” and that the police would “always respect this.” That, and it was “outside of the realm of governmental oversight” to enforce how many people are allowed to gather at a private resident’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. (Interesting.) The upshot? People need to use “common sense.” “I encourage everybody to act responsibly,” said Zurlo.

First things first: being cute in an official press release about keeping people safe from a deadly virus that has felled nearly 20,000 New Yorkers is not a good use of common sense but rather helps stoke the fires of ignorance. It only gives anti-maskers and over-the-top college keg partiers the leg up, those viral Russian-rouletters who believe that COVID isn’t really that big of a deal. Just ask Major Paul “Tucker” Jancsy, a New York Air National Guardsman and Delta pilot, who spent 35 days in Saratoga Hospital and nearly lost his life because of the virus, whether it’s a joking matter. The fact that Johnny Saratoga, surrounded by 20 of his closest friends and family members, infecting his elderly parents and grandparents at the Thanksgiving dinner table—and possibly killing them—isn’t a big deal is beyond reason. It’s pretty easy to count the number of cars in a driveway, don a mask, knock on a door and say, “You’ll need to reduce the size of your party to 10 or fewer.” Sounds easy enough to me. And if you’re a police officer doing it, my guess is that the people inside would comply. I have never openly defied a police officer’s order.

I’d like to suggest that right now, we’re at a crossroads. With the holiday season fast approaching and a long, hard, deadly winter coming our way, New Yorkers need to find the inner-strength and mettle to do what’s right once again. If the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t want to enforce a rule that will help save Saratogians’ lives, you need to step up and follow the rules yourself. Be above the law, only in this sense. Because, look, whether or not you feel Governor Cuomo trampled on your liberties by enforcing mask-wearing and social-distancing mandates back in March and throughout the past six months, one thing is clear: It worked. That’s why our numbers are, relatively speaking, lower than many other states’. That’s why states like North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming and Nebraska are seeing massive COVID case spikes per week versus our 26.3. We did what was right, because it was the only choice we had.

So, this Thanksgiving—or Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you happen to be celebrating in the next few weeks—when you’re sitting down to dinner, and your annoying Uncle Albert says, “Everybody go around the table and say what you’re thankful for,” I’d suggest saying: “I’m thankful that I’m not eating a family dinner at a superspreader event and killing my loved ones.”

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Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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