AKRON, N.Y. (WIVB)–The state has appealed last week’s controversial ruling that shot down Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order that restricted weddings to 50 or fewer guests.
In an unusual move, the State Attorney General’s Office asked for an expedited hearing that could result in a shut down of an Aug. 22 wedding at the Timberlodge at Arrowhead Golf Club in Akron, of Pamella Giglia and Joe Durolek, out of concern of the coronavirus.
The state argues that a stay of the Aug. 7 decision is necessary because there is a high danger of “irreparable harm” if the wedding were to go on with 175 guests and public interest strongly favors a stay. In addition, the state argues that a stay would not “substantially injure” the couple because they can choose to follow the 50-person-or-fewer order that was originally in place.
Attached to the motion is an affidavit from State Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker who labeled the wedding of 175 guests as a “super-spreader” event for the coronavirus.
Anthony Rupp, the plaintiffs’ attorney, deemed the state motion as “frivolous.”
“I think what the state is doing here is nefarious,” Rupp said.
“The state is trying to get the Court to step on its toes and unwittingly undo the preliminary injunction by granting a stay.”
On Aug. 7, U.S. District Court Judge Glen Sudaby in the Northern District of New York ruled that the state cannot enforce a 50-person limit on the Timberlodge at Arrowhead Golf Club, restaurant and wedding venue.
Rather, the judge ruled, the venue must follow the “relevant health and safety precautions” that have been outlined by the state for restaurants to follow, including operating at 50% capacity.
The Timberlodge at Arrowhead has a restaurant capacity well above 50 people, so the court ruling has allowed it to continue on with weddings that the owner said he booked.
While the state argues that the Aug. 7 decision is limited to these two wedding couples that sued, Gov. Cuomo’s office has also said that the court’s decision is “irresponsible” because it could open the state up to allowing large gatherings for weddings.
Zucker said in his affidavit in support of the state’s stay request that the courts wrongly assumed that a wedding has a “high degree of similarity” to an ordinary dinner at a restaurant.
“In fact, there are many important differences between such a celebration and ordinary restaurant dining, and those differences are highly significant from a public health perspective,” Zucker said.
Zucker said patrons come and go and dine separately at restaurants, while spending no more than an hour or two at the table for dinner.
At a wedding, however, the guests tend to arrive and leave roughly at the same time so that they can “celebrate together,” making mingling among the guests inevitable, Zucker said. The wedding guests will also spend more time at the venue than if it were for just a dinner, he said.
“These differences greatly increase the probability of transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” Zucker said.
“Therefore, the number of people permitted in a restaurant for ordinary restaurant dining cannot be used for a social gathering at the same facility, such as a wedding or other similar event. Because such an event carries a greatly increased risk of transmission of disease, the number of attendees must be more limited than the number permitted for ordinary restaurant dining, in order to maintain comparable control of transmission risk.”
Zucker said the couple can still get married; they just would have to follow the 50-person capacity rule for the wedding.
By allowing a “super-spreader event” to move forward, Zucker said, it “has a greater than average propensity to infect a larger number of people, and it is thought that 10% of the COVID-19 cases may be responsible for 80% of the transmission.”
Zucker said federal CDC guidance states that as a group’s size increases, so do the risks of transmitting the disease to a wider cluster and having someone attend who is already contagious.
“The number of people in a room is not, however, the sole determinant of the risk of transmission,” Zucker said.
“In particular, the risk is much higher when the people in a room arrive and depart at the same time, are there for a communal purpose that encourages mingling, and spend long hours there together. Weddings and other social gatherings thus entail a much higher risk of transmission at any given size than opening a restaurant to the same number of individuals in separate dining parties.”
Mingling at weddings is generally “much more direct interaction” for the guests than if it were just a normal dining event at a restaurant, Zucker said.
Plus, Zucker said, most people know one another at weddings as it tends to be “friends and family” in contrast to a restaurant at which the patrons at each table are unlikely to know one another or mingle together.
Zucker said several features of the Aug. 22 wedding concern him, including that it will be held indoors at the Arrowhead venue, “and researchers have found that super-spreading events tended to happen in indoor spaces, with people in close proximity.”
In addition, Zucker is concerned that there is a higher risk that wedding guests will be “raising their voices in some way, such as signing or shouting,” which he said frequently happens at weddings.
“In general, social gatherings have led to more clusters of disease than exposure in workplaces or homes—for example, mass transmissions have occurred at wedding celebrations, bars and karaoke parties,” he said.
After all, Zucker notes, the state’s first coronavirus cluster happened in February when a 50-year-old man in New Rochelle still attended a bat mitzvah despite showing symptoms of the disease that day.
And even if the venue institutes best practices, such as guests practice social distancing and wear masks, Zucker said, it is unlikely to “fulfill such promises when hosting a large gathering such as that at issue here.”
For those reasons, the state argued in its motion that the court should apply a pause on the Aug. 7 decision that granted the wedding venue a larger per-person capacity limit until an appeal can be heard by a judge.
The couples’ argued on Aug. 7 that the state’s order that limited weddings to 50 people violated their rights.
On Friday, the judge gave the couples’ the temporary restraining orders that prevent local and state authorities from shutting down their weddings.
The Aug. 7 ruling could still impact how bars, restaurants and other wedding venues temporarily operate across the state, Rupp said, even though the state believes the ruling is only applicable to the two couples’ weddings.
Jenna DiMartile and Justin Crawford, the other couple that sued, got married at the Akron wedding venue about an hour after the Aug. 7 decision.