Gov. Ralph Northam’s order on Monday requires all Virginians stay at home until June 10 to alleviate the spread of COVID-19.
Monday’s order came after an order that all public and private schools in Virginia close for two weeks. Then he ordered all schools closed for the remainder of the academic year.
But, how will the governor’s orders be enforced by local police?
According to Capt. Kelly Walker of the Waynesboro Police Department, discussions about enforcement began when the governor gave Executive Order No. 53 on March 13.
While the department encourages residents of the River City to voluntarily comply with the governor’s orders, Executive Order No. 55 changes the situation for local police.
“There are obviously things we can and should enforce should a problem arise,” said Walker.
For example, an officer might respond to a call of loud music and give a verbal warning to comply.
Walker said enforcing the governor’s order “would be no different.”
As of Wednesday, Walker said he looked back at more than 150 recent calls to the police department and none were about violations of the governor’s order.
Calls for domestic violence and fights, however, have increased.
“There do seem to be a few more of those than normal,” Walker said.
The department’s biggest concern during the pandemic, Walker said, is the governor’s order contains reasonable and logical restrictions to comply “in order to get through this pandemic as unscathed as possible.”
“Obviously, we think that people should comply,” Walker said.
Walker said Waynesboro police want residents to listen to state and federal health officials “because it is for their own safety and well being.”
“We appreciate the cooperation and understanding of our own citizens regarding prohibitions coming out from our government,” Walker said.
He added he hopes River City residents will also accept the precautions Waynesboro police officers are taking to protect themselves when they respond to calls.
“We just want our citizens to know we’re still here, and we’re still responding, but we’ve adjusted,” Walker said.
Officers responding to calls within the River City are carrying N95 masks in their cars. If they respond to a call which indicates a mask is necessary, they will wear a mask.
An officer responding to a call might ask a resident to step outside of the home in order to practice social distancing and discuss the need for the call to police.
Waynesboro police cars are also cleaned and sanitized regularly.
“These are new times for all of us,” said Augusta County Sheriff’s Office’s Lt. Aaron LeVeck.
LeVeck said the Sunday before last the sheriff’s office received a call about a church in violation of having more than 10 individuals in attendance.
By the time the sheriff’s office received the call, the church was no longer in Sunday service, LeVeck said, however, the incident raised questions for the sheriff’s office.
“What if violating [the governor’s order]? What are we supposed to do?” LeVeck said.
As of Monday, the sheriff’s office has guidance and direction from the governor’s new stay-at-home order for Virginia residents.
“That’s an option — enforcement,” LeVeck said.
He referenced the governor’s order regarding public and private gatherings in Executive Order No. 53: failure to close access to dining, food courts and breweries, as well as failure for brick-and-mortar retail stores to limit in-person shopping to 10 individuals per establishment.
In Executive Order No. 55, LeVeck said institutions of higher education must limit class size, and campgrounds and hotels must limit overnight stays.
LeVeck said even in times of normalcy “we have laws,” but some individuals choose to commit crimes.
“Will they violate these Executive Orders? Maybe, maybe not,” LeVeck said.
LeVeck said the sheriff’s office does not know how the community will respond to the governor’s orders.
“I’m sure a lot of people are going to do their part so we can get through this,” he said.
But for individuals who do not, the sheriff’s office will respond to calls of complaints and will investigate.
And no complaint will be taken more seriously than another, according to LeVeck.
“I would think all are equally important, but, if you have a lot of people in close proximity, I would think that would be most concerning,” LeVeck said.
LeVeck said “if we don’t all do our part, the longer this is going to last.”
Virginia State Police also encourages Virginians to “adhere to Virginia Gov. Northam’s directives and do their part by staying home in order to best mitigate the exposure and spread of COVID-19 within the Commonwealth,” according to a press release.
State troopers “are minimizing their direct contact with the public,” the press release said, for personal safety and the safety of the public.
All state police recruitment events, presentations, training and ceremonies are cancelled through June 10.
The press release said that state and local law enforcement are directed by Northam to address violations of both orders with education and warnings.
“Persistent violation of these Executive Order (EO) directives can result in an individual(s) or business being charged with a class one misdemeanor, which carries up to a year in jail and $2,500 fine,” the press release stated.
In Executive Order 55, excluding family members living in the same residence and businesses not required to close under Executive Order No. 53, public and private in-person gatherings of more than 10 individuals are prohibited.
All dining and congregation areas in restaurants, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries and farmers markets must close.
Brick-and-mortar retail businesses must limit in-person shopping to 10 individuals per establishment. If the business cannot adhere to the restriction, it must close.
Public access of recreational and entertainment businesses is prohibited, as well as public beaches except for exercising and fishing.
In-person classes at institutions of higher education are cancelled.
Reservations for overnight stays less than 14 nights at privately-owned campgrounds are prohibited.
“State police is required to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth and will continue to have a visible presence within our communities and on the roads for the safety of those living, working and traveling in Virginia. The law still requires law enforcement to have reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop on a vehicle. Virginia State Police will not be making random traffic stops on vehicles nor conducting checkpoints to determine if a driver is traveling for a permissible reason, as granted by [Executive Orders 53 and 55],” the press release stated.
According to Executive Order 55, individuals will not be required to carry documentation about travel purposes; Virginia roads and interstates will not be closed to residents; travel into and through Virginia will not be prohibited.
The press release also stated that Executive Order 55 does not prevent Virginians from traveling out of state. However, Virginia State Police encourage out-of-state travelers to check travel restrictions for the state they plan to travel to, and also encourage Virginians to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to the Commonwealth.
For more information, visit virginia.gov/corona virus/faq.