Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino wanted to clear something up right away in an interview on Tuesday: The concern he's raising about New York officials wanting to limit gatherings in homes to no more than 10 people isn't rooted in politics.
His trouble with the order is rooted in the constitutional issues it has raised among upstate sheriffs.
"We can't set aside the constitution for own purpose or if it's a good intent I have so disregard it," he said. "The law says I can't enter your house unless you give me consent, I have a search warrant, or if there's an emergency or exigent circumstance."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in recent days has raised concerns with "living room" spread — the concept that cases are being generated by small gatherings of family and friends. COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing across the country and in parts of New York, including upstate counties.
Other states have put similar orders in effect, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. The Centers for Disease Control is also recommending Thanksgiving be celebrated with only household members.
And enforcement of the COVID-19 restrictions have largely been about communication among state officials.
"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. We urge everyone to continue to be smart and act responsibly," said Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi. "We know this makes people unhappy, but better unhappy then sick or worse."
Giardino is not the only sheriff who has raised opposition. Sheriffs in Saratoga, Erie, Schoharie, and Rennsealer counties have all said they would not enforce it. Giardino is a Republican, but he is also a former district attorney and judge in the rural county.
Aside from the legal questions, he says his office simply doesn't have the ability to enforce this 10-person limit in a large and rural county.
"We live in a rural county," he said. "I've got three deputies on patrol for 500 square miles. I've got 55,000 people in the county and outside the cities, I have 35,000 people we're responsible for on a regular basis. I don't have the manpower, the resources or the time to check who's got how many people in their homes."
Nevertheless, Giardino is urging people to remain smart about the virus and to do what's best for their families. He plans to limit his own Thanksgiving to about eight people.
"Use common sense," he said. "If your parents are elderly, if someone has diabetes, if someone has a immune disease, then for God's sake protect your family. Wear masks, disinfect or don't have it. But you have to understand we've seen a spike nationally and across New York in mental health cases. Isolationism is real, mental illness is real."