OPINION: With COVID-19 rules, violators may be prosecuted
This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.
SALT LAKE CITY — My question about new COVID-19 rules is simple.
Can you or I get arrested for violating the plethora of new COVID-19 rules we find ourselves living under?
Keep a social distance of at least 6 feet from another person. Don’t gather with groups of 10 friends or more.
There are too many to name here, but you can find a complete list at KSLNewradio.com
On the Dave & Dujanovic show today, we went in search of the answer by inviting several political leaders to call in live.
Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, who heads up Utah’s Coronavirus Task Force, seemed taken aback when I first brought it up.
I threw out an example I’d heard from a close friend over the weekend.
Will I get arrested for bending COVID-19 rules?
“What if I’m driving through a county I don’t live in and I stop at a state park?” I asked. Under Gov. Gary Herbert’s new directive this is a no-no for the time being.
I see where the governor’s coming from. He doesn’t want a bunch of bored Utahns park-hopping in picture-perfect weather and possibly passing the virus from hiker to hiker.
“Will I be thrown into the clink?” meaning a jail cell, I asked Lt. Gov. Cox.
“Let’s not say stuff like that, Debbie. That’s not helpful,” he said. “We’re not going to arrest everybody that’s not how this stuff works, okay.”
He went on to say, “Even if you go to California and places where they have orders for shelter-in-place for everyone they’re not arresting people for this. What we’re asking people to do is to be really, really smart and to be really, really careful.”
Nobody puts Debbie in a corner
I’m sure he and others are under tremendous stress as they navigate Utah residents through these unprecedented times, but at that moment the journalist in me needed more clarification.
As this pandemic wears on I am concerned that some residents may take the route of non-compliance. Then what? Will they be arrested after that?
Sheriff: Officers will enforce new COVID-19 rules
We turned to Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera who explained that violating public health orders, like the one issued March 29 by Mayor Jenny Wilson, could get me the one thing, besides COVID-19 coronavirus, that I don’t want — a rap sheet.
The mayor’s order is 16 pages and by page 3, section 1, it’s clear she means business.
“All individuals present within Salt Lake County are directed to stay safe at home or at their place of residence, except to engage in essential activities and to work to provide essential businesses,” the order reads.
It bans gatherings of non-family members who don’t live in the same home.
Playgrounds, beauty, and tanning salons are closed too
In addition to closing bars and restaurants, she’s shuttering playgrounds, beauty salons, tanning, and tattoo parlors and advises essential employees to social distance appropriately until April 13.
Sheriff Rivera said her police officers will enforce the order.
“We are going to begin by asking people for their cooperation.” According to the sheriff, if you’re caught again, an officer will stop asking and take action.
“In the event we can’t get that cooperation that is when enforcement comes into place.” When the sheriff started tossing out criminal codes, my ears perked up.
“The first violation is a Class B (misdemeanor), they would be cited.
Caught again? “Then a Class A after that.”
The sheriff is confident most will abide by the new rules.
Top prosecutor: “This is not a suggestion anymore”
In situations like these, I believe there’s value for our listeners to hear a 3rd opinion. So, we asked Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor, District Attorney Sim Gill, to also call in.
Like a father dropping an exclamation point at the end of a teaching moment, he vowed to go after “flagrant” violators.
“This is not simply a suggestion anymore, we are in the middle of a pandemic, our numbers are increasing and this is to safeguard all of our community and that person who will violate may be subject to criminal prosecution.”
I don’t want to contract Coronavirus.
Nor do I want a COVID-19 rap sheet.
I’m sure most Utah residents don’t either.
You can hear the interviews with Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, below:
How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus
COVID-19 coronavirus is transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:
- Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
- Don’t touch your face.
- Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
- If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
- Get a flu shot.
State of Utah: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/
Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707