ALBANY — Areas in the Buffalo region are seeing surging rates of coronavirus that will result in those communities moving into an “orange zone” under state guidelines — a designation that will limit the size of gatherings, close “high-risk” non-essential businesses such as gyms, and potentially force some schools to close.
During a coronavirus task force briefing on Wednesday at the Capitol, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also reiterated that Thanksgiving and other upcoming holidays will trigger a surge in COVID-19 cases and that law enforcement officers who are declaring they will not enforce a 10-person limit on gatherings are violating their constitutional oath to uphold the law.
“I’m a law enforcement officer; I enforce the laws — I don’t get to pick and choose,” Cuomo said. “Well, I’m not going to enforce domestic violence laws because that’s a family affair? No: There’s a law and you have to enforce the law, or don’t call yourself a law enforcement officer.”
When pressed on how the law — enacted through an executive order — could be enforced, Cuomo acknowledged that it is largely an honor system, but that the spread of COVID-19 is going to surge as a result of underground gatherings that are becoming more of a problem than crowds at bars and restaurants.
“Nobody is saying knock on doors and count heads,” the governor said. “But you come across a gathering for one reason or another and there’s 20 people there, you say, ‘This can’t happen.'”
Americans should be thankful for the members of law enforcement standing up to tyrants, refusing to enforce oppressive lockdowns & mandates.— Rep Andy Biggs (@RepAndyBiggsAZ) November 20, 2020
In Arizona, we have had a handful of sheriffs who have taken similar stands, including @PinalCSO @sherifflamb1. https://t.co/taJZATrDIN
Police are mandated to make arrests in certain crimes — including domestic violence — but they also have legal authority to use discretion in whether or not to make an arrest in most low-level crimes and violations, including marijuana offenses. For instance, if an officer pulls over a person who is speeding, or confronts a person caught shoplifting, they can issue a warning and are not required to make an arrest. Police have that same discretion in whether or not to enforce the governor’s executive orders — which amount to a violation of Public Health Law that carries a potential fine and up to a year in jail.
A spokesman for Cuomo later clarified that Cuomo is not encouraging police to make arrests, but to take steps to ensure that illegal gatherings are broken up.
The governor also announced that he is going to ask New York’s agency and department commissioners, as well as three other statewide elected officials — Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Letitia James — to join him in deferring “step” raises they were scheduled to receive in January. Cuomo’s salary was set to climb $25,000 to $250,000, which would make him the highest-paid governor in the nation.
“Given the overall financial picture, for the same rationale that we didn’t do a raise (for 80,000 state government workers) … I’m going to ask commissioners, myself and the other (statewide elected officials) not to take a raise this year, and then I’ll do an (executive order) to that effect,” Cuomo said.
In a sometimes testy exchange with reporters at the Capitol news conference, Cuomo cautioned a journalist asking about whether New York City schools would be shut down Thursday to “try not be obnoxious and offensive in your tone.” In a condescending manner, the governor then walked the reporters through what he said are clear rules governing when schools must close — when a 3 percent positive infection rate occurs in an orange zone — but noted that schools also are allowed to set their own protocols for when they can reopen after an outbreak.
“I don’t know if you were here or if you were paying attention,” Cuomo told a reporter. “It always said if by the state’s numbers you hit 3 percent, the schools close. What’s going on here is nothing that the law hasn’t said for over a month. … We closed (some of) the schools in New York City two weeks ago. … We did it already. That’s the law — an orange zone and a red zone — follow the facts.”
When a reporter suggested to the governor that the laws are confusing to parents, he responded: “They’re not confused, you’re confused.” He added that schools that close in orange hot spots due to a coronavirus outbreak are able to reopen if they administer COVID-19 tests to students and faculty before they return.
But the governor also acknowledged that same testing protocol cannot be executed in most New York City schools because of the high number of teachers and students in many districts.
“Schools close in an orange zone, but the schools can reopen if they stay closed for four days, they clean and then they test people who come back in, as well as faculty and staff,” Cuomo said. “If New York City hits 3 percent in an orange zone — and if New York City wanted to reopen the schools, we would have to design a different formula … because by volume we couldn’t test every student in New York City.”
Not long after Cuomo’s briefing ended, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced New York City’s schools would discontinue in-person learning on Thursday due to a surge in coronavirus. He said the shift to remote learning would be extended at least through the Thanksgiving holiday.
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