Rule of law ignored on Thanksgiving Day

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“If you see me coming to your house today, you’ve got bigger problems than 10 people, “ said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple at a press conference on Thursday morning.

ALBANY COUNTY — On Thanksgiving Day, the county sheriff said he wasn’t enforcing the 10-person restrictions for gatherings, and the governor downplayed Wednesday night’s United States Supreme Court decision striking down New York’s orders limiting religious gatherings, saying, “It doesn’t have any practical effect.”

At the same time, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced the death of another resident from COVID-19 — bringing the county’s death toll from the disease to 151. He also announced 100 new cases since Wednesday.

“It’s been alarming,” said McCoy. “It’s a big number. It continues to grow … The second wave is here.”

“If you see me coming to your house today, you’ve got bigger problems than 10 people, “ said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple at a press conference on Thursday morning. “We don’t have the time or the resources to be out doing that. What this comes down to is personal accountability … Just follow the guidelines and do the right thing.”

While people have been haggling over the executive order capping gatherings statewide to 10 people, Apple said, “We’re forgetting about the mental health crisis that’s out there and getting worse every day as a result of COVID-19.”

Apple said suicides are up and drug overdoses are “sky high.”

“We’re forgetting all the people that are unemployed,” he said, and the businesses, just in the Capital Region that are closing at “exponential rates.” He also said, “We still have a violence issue.”

As more residents get tested for COVID-19, Apple said, urgent-care centers are calling the sheriff’s office because people impatient for tests at crowded centers “are getting rowdy and screaming if they can’t get one.”

Apple said his office is stockpiling personal protective equipment so that the county isn’t again caught short as the virus surges nationwide.

He concluded by urging courtesy and patience.

Supreme court ruling

On the eve of Thanksgiving, the Supreme Court reversed itself on similar rulings it had made in recent cases brought by churches in Nevada and Arizona. The vote was still the same, 5 to 4. But, with Amy Coney Barrett replacing the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the ruling went in the opposite direction.

The majority ruled that Andrew Cuomo’s restrictions on the size of gatherings in micro-cluster zones violated the First Amendment protection on the free exercise of religion. 

One application was filed by two synagogues, an Orthodox Jewish organization and two individuals, and the other was filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn.

Cuomo’s micro-cluster initiative caps attendance at houses of worship at the lesser of 10 people or 25-percent maximum capacity in red zones, where COVID-19 outbreaks are the most severe. In orange warning zones, attendance is limited to the lesser of 25 people or 33-percent maximum capacity; in yellow precautionary zones, attendance is capped at 50-percent maximum capacity.

The red, orange, and yellow zones are fluid — redefined with changing data on COVID-19 test results.

On Nov. 30, Cuomo announced a winter plan for battling COVID-19, which will change some of the micro-cluster restrictions.

Cuomo told reporters in a conference call on Thanksgiving Day, “I think that Supreme Court ruling on the religious gatherings is more illustrative of the Supreme Court than anything else. It’s irrelevant from a practical impact because the zone that they were talking about has already been moved. It expired last week.”

Cuomo went on, “I think this was really just an opportunity for the Court to express its philosophy and politics … In terms of religious gatherings, look, I’m a former altar boy. Catholic grammar school, Catholic high school, Jesuit college. I fully respect religion and if there’s a time in life when we need it, the time is now, but we want to make sure we keep people safe at the same time. That's the balance we're trying to hit, especially through this holiday season and the coming Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, et cetera celebrations.”

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who joined the three liberal members of the court in the dissent, wrote, “The governor might reinstate the restrictions. But he also might not. And it is a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials concerning what is necessary for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic. If the governor does reinstate the numerical restrictions the applicants can return to this court, and we could act quickly on their renewed applications.”

Newest numbers

Albany County entered its fifth day of crossing the threshold — it takes 10 consecutive days of infection rates over 3 percent — of being declared a yellow zone. McCoy reported on Thursday morning that the seven-day rolling average for the county was again at 3 percent.

If the seven-day average remains at or over 3-percent for another five days, the state’s department of health will define the places in Albany County that will be declared yellow zones.

McCoy also expressed sadness for the 151st county death from COVID-19. The victim was a man in his eighties who did not live in a nursing home.

Statewide, Cuomo announced that, based on Wednesday’s test results, the positivity rate is 2.18 percent. That includes the micro-cluster zones at 4.90 percent.

The Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, has a seven-day average of 2.37 percent. The Southern Tier has the lowest rate of the state’s 10 regions at 1.39 percent. Western New York remains the highest at 5.46 percent.

As of Thursday morning, Albany County has 5,367 confirmed cases of COVID-19, McCoy announced.

Of the 100 new cases, 11 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, three reported traveling out of state, 84 did not have a clear source of infection identified at this time and two are healthcare workers or residents of congregate settings.

Currently, 2,714 Albany County residents are under quarantine, up from 2,452. The five-day average for new daily positives decreased to 90.6 from 93. There are now 949 active cases in the county, up from 918 on Wednesday.

So far, 21,785 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 4,418 had tested positive and recovered. 

Forty-one county residents remain hospitalized with 10 in intensive-care units. The county’s hospitalization rate is now 0.76 percent.


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