These US Sheriffs Are Refusing to Enforce COVID Restrictions

With Thanksgiving days away, sheriffs in North Dakota, Utah, and New York are resisting orders to enforce mask mandates and social distancing, including limits on large gatherings.
November 17, 2020, 6:51pm
NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo conducts press briefing and makes a presentation at the 3rd Avenue office in New York on July 23, 2020.
NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo conducts press briefing and makes a presentation at the 3rd Avenue office in New York on July 23, 2020.(Photo by Lev Radin/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

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Sheriffs around the country are saying they don’t have a responsibility to enforce COVID-19 safety measures put in place by their governors, even as cases continue to break records in the U.S.

With Thanksgiving days away, sheriffs in North Dakota, Utah, and New York are resisting orders to enforce mask mandates and social distancing, including limits on large gatherings during the holiday weekend.

In New York, where COVID-19 hospitalizations have tripled since the beginning of October, Gov. Andrew Cuomo instated a 10-person limit on social gatherings and parties last Wednesday. Since then, at least four sheriffs around the state have openly said they will not enforce the rule. 

Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said he doesn’t have the resources to crack down on New Yorkers who defy the order, and Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino wrote on Facebook Saturday that he doesn’t have the legal reach to demand people follow Cuomo’s orders in their own homes.

In Utah, where Republican Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency earlier this month after the state suffered its deadliest week of the pandemic, the state’s top elected official mandated all citizens to wear masks, social distance, and avoid gatherings larger than the number of people who live in a household until November 23.

But he’s received pushback from at least one county sheriff.

“We don’t really believe that this is entirely the right solution,” Iron County Sheriff Ken Carpenter told the Salt Lake Tribune about the governor’s efforts to encourage social distancing. “If our store owners and citizens wish to follow those mandates, that’s their choice. But health care is a personal decision and shouldn’t be a government mandate.”

In North Dakota, where coronavirus reached a new high last Monday, at least three county sheriffs say they won’t enforce Republican Gov. Doug Burgum’s mandate to socially distance and wear a mask. 

McKenzie County Sheriff Matthew Johansen said in a press release that the mandate impedes both the U.S. and North Dakota constitutions, and Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee took to Facebook to say he’s leaving the decision to practice safety to his constituents. 

Hettinger County Sheriff Sarah Warner also said she doesn’t want to turn a health issue into a criminal issue, according to the Jamestown Sun, despite no criminal consequence for not wearing a mask. North Dakotans who fail to adhere to state rules face up to $1,000 in fines.

In Mississippi, the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department stated that they will not be adhering to Republican Gov. Tate Reeve’s mask and social distancing mandate despite having the second-highest number of infections in the state.

“We have not issued any citations,” a spokesperson said in a statement last Thursday. “We will not issue citations for not wearing masks, nor will we enforce Gov. Tate Reeves' mandate on social distancing.”

It’s not just members of the law enforcement community who are pushing back on restrictions, either. 

Dr. Scott Atlas, a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, encouraged the people of Michigan to ignore Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s social distancing and mask mandates

On Sunday, he tweeted that Michigan residents should “rise up” against the governor’s order to limit large gatherings for the next three weeks. When asked about his tweet during an interview with Fox News Monday, Atlas doubled down.

“This kind of isolation is one of the unspoken tragedies of the elderly who are now being told don't see your family at Thanksgiving,” he said during the interview. “For many people this is their final Thanksgiving, believe it or not. What are we doing here?”

The U.S. has had more than 150,000 new COVID-19 cases a day in the last week, with an average of 1,000 people succumbing to the deadly respiratory disease every day, according to the New York Times. On Sunday, Johns Hopkins University recorded 11 million active cases in the U.S., a new record.