Local law enforcement leaders are urging citizens to take seriously Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay at home order, which took effect at 5 p.m. Monday.
Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew, North Wilkesboro Police Chief Joe Rankin and Wilkesboro Police Chief Craig Garris all said voluntary compliance with the order is being sought at this point, but enforcement action will be taken if needed.
Cooper said he is seeking voluntary cooperation with the order, but he noted that state and local law enforcement officers have the authority to enforce it if voluntary cooperation isn’t achieved. Violation of the order is a class 2 misdemeanor offense.
Cooper’s order lists numerous reasons people can be away from their homes and types of “essential” businesses and operations that can remain open. The full order is on the Wilkes Journal-Patriot website at https://www.journalpatriot.com/gov-roy-coopers-full-stay-at-home-order/pdf_176d8d40-7083-11ea-a73e-1f10454caaaa.html. Additional details are in a news story on this page.
Shew, Garris and Rankin shared additional comments on the order.
Shew said that although voluntary compliance is sought, sheriff’s office deputies have been instructed to use their own judgment when they encounter apparent violations of the order. He said deputies can give verbal warnings, issue citations or make arrests depending on circumstances.
Shew said he is receiving numerous phone calls about what is and isn’t allowed under the order and also about enforcement. He said it’s really simply a matter of common sense. “Everybody knows how dangerous the virus is and unless people have a really good reason otherwise, they just need to stay home.”
He said many of the phone calls are from people wondering how the order affects church worship services. Shew said he understands the importance of church and worship services and added that order allows people to travel to and from places of worship and includes “religious entities” among “essential” operations that can remain open.
However, a “questions and answers” section on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services website said religious gatherings are subject to a portion of the order prohibiting mass gatherings of more than 10 people.
He said certain other sheriff’s office administrative services are being provided less promptly due to temporary virus-related changes in the criminal justice system.
Wilkesboro Police Chief Craig Garris said Monday the best way to not contract COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, was to stay home, just as Cooper ordered. “By doing so, you are not just keeping yourself from getting sick, but someone in your family who will not be able to deal with the virus and could face a long recovery or even die.”
Garris said his department is asking for voluntary compliance with the order and will not conduct checkpoints for violations of the order. “But, we will enforce the order if we find a violator through any other lawful means.”
He reminded citizens there are many essential reasons to lawfully be away from home under the stay at home order, which isn’t the more restrictive “shelter in place” order.
“Please take the time to read the exceptions” that allow for lawful travel, he added, and also urged people to always travel with a form of picture ID such as a driver’s license.
“I implore the public to respect social distancing and to stay under the 10 persons in a gathering rule to reduce infections. It is in challenging times that we as a community need to come together and trust the health experts to get us past this pandemic with losing as few lives as possible and get our society back to normal soon.”
North Wilkesboro Police Chief Joe Rankin said Monday he 100% agreed with Cooper’s order. “I think people don’t realize how serious (COVID-19) is. It affects every one of us and could potentially take life. It’s imperative we take it seriously, because what somebody else does impacts me and my family. That’s why it’s so serious.”
Now that the virus has been confirmed in Wilkes County, Rankin said he would encourage people to gather only in very small groups. He stressed groups of far fewer than 10, which is what the mayors of Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro and Ronda urged in their revised declaration of emergency on March 25.
“Me and my family are not going out unless we have to. This past weekend, we stayed at home.”
Rankin pointed out that Cooper asked state residents for voluntary compliance. “We don’t want to have to step in” if compliance is not met. “But will we? Yes. But we hope that’s a last resort that doesn’t come up.”
To cope with the stress of this “unchartered territory,” Rankin advised citizens to take a deep breath, take a step back and realize that the most important thing is continued good health.
“If you don’t have to be out, then don’t go out. Instead of assuming someone doesn’t have the virus, my advice is to treat everyone as if they do.”
Public health officials recommend frequently washing hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds, maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others when you must be in public and staying home unless it is essential to do otherwise.