WATAUGA — Local law enforcement agencies are hoping to educate the public as much as possible about the statewide stay-at-home order before having to enforce it.
Gov. Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 121 — also known as the stay-at-home order — which instructs North Carolinians to remain in their homes except for performing essential work and essential activities including caring for others, obtaining necessary supplies and for health and safety purposes. The order went into effect at 5 p.m. March 30 and will continue until at least April 29.
According to Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Major Kelly Redmon, all state and local law enforcement agencies are tasked with enforcing the executive order — which is reflected in the Watauga County state of emergency declaration.
“While our goal is to have voluntary compliance as we encourage more people to stay at home and practice social distancing, we want to make certain that people are aware that violating this order may result in a Class 2 misdemeanor,” Redmon said. “We urge Watauga County citizens to assist us as we help support the latest public health recommendations and that of the governor’s executive order.”
Unless otherwise provided for a specific offense, the maximum fine that may be imposed for a Class 2 misdemeanor is $1,000, according to N.C. General Statutes 15A-1340.23. The sentence may include community punishment, intermediate punishment or active punishment depending on the level of offense with prior convictions taken into consideration, according to the statute.
Boone Police Chief Dana Crawford said the department aims to educate and warn the community about the order in hopes that people will get the message.
“If that doesn’t work, we will have to enforce the order for the sake of the public, but it is not our desire to do that,” Crawford said.
Redmon said deputies would not need proof that a person has a reason to be out during the stay-at-home order if they are approached by law enforcement.
Boone Police tweeted on March 30 that its communication center as well as 911 were seeing an increase in calls from people with questions about the stay-at-home order. The department directed the public to visit the governor’s frequently asked questions document as 911 resources needed to be reserved for emergency matters. The FAQ page can be found at files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/200327_FAQ-SAH-Order_FINAL.pdf.
The weekend before the order was enacted, many community members could be seen enjoying the warm weather at outdoor parks and congregating at local river spots. Crawford said unless there were more than 50 people congregated at the locations, it would not be a violation of Cooper’s Executive Order 120, which was still in effect at the time. Executive Order 120 was signed on March 23 and prohibited mass gatherings defined as a crowd of around 50 people. Order 121 now prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.
“I am not aware of many calls about large gatherings, but that could change with the new order,” Crawford said on March 30.
Both Crawford and Redmon said their agencies would be responding to calls on gatherings of crowds. Redmon added that WCSO would take appropriate action if necessary. As of March 31, Redmon said the agency had not responded to any reports of mass gatherings since Order 121 was enacted.