CORONAVIRUS, Law Enforcement, Washington County

Washington Co. Sheriff’s Office: Education is priority in enforcing social distancing rules

A Washington County Sheriff’s Office vehicle. File photo taken June 9, 2018 by Chas Hundley

Coronavirus resources: CDC on the coronavirusOregon Health Authority resourcesWashington County resourcesOregonian reporting on the coronavirusOPB glossary of coronavirus termsNYTimes free reporting on the coronavirus

OREGON – On Monday, Governor Kate Brown issued an executive order calling for all Oregonians to “stay at home or at their place of residence” as much as possible to help curb and stop the spread of COVID-19 — the coronavirus.   

On Tuesday, it seemed as if many Oregonians were outright ignoring Brown’s decree. 

In Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Forest Grove, drivers traversed roadways much like any other day, and it was the same story from Portland to Oregon City on Highway 99E and Interstate 205. 

Interstate 5, Highway 217, and Highway 26 weren’t the typical parking lots they turn into during rush hours, but thousands of vehicles moved along those freeways. 

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Businesses remained open, although it appeared many followed the executive order and closed their doors to customers. 

Convenience stores buzzed with consumer activity. Liquor stores across the region remained busy throughout the day while bars and taverns are forced to shut down. Grocery stores were packed with people, many carrying shopping baskets holding just a few items. People could be seen strolling along Portland’s waterfront park, many walking in pairs, but passing others walking in the opposite direction.

In each of these instances, people stood or walked well within six feet of each other. 

Some of this behavior was documented on social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter users shared posts with photographs and comments about what they witnessed in Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties. 

“No one is staying at home,” Facebook user Jennifer Bolton wrote. “My mother’s a nurse and I took her to work this morning to (Providence) St. Vincent (Medical Center). Traffic wasn’t at a standstill like usual, but it seemed like just any other day and it looked like most businesses were open. People are out everywhere not caring at all. It’s selfish and horrible.”

People who choose to venture out unheeded are likely aware of the stay-at-home order, but many may not realize doing so could result in being charged with a crime. 

Washington County Sheriffs Sgt. Danny DiPietro said that by law if the governor issues an executive order and someone violates it, that is a class c misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 30 days in jail, a fine of as much as $1,250, or both. 

“It is an arrestable offense, but that’s not our approach,” DiPietro said. “We don’t want to take people into custody or give citations. That’s just going to take resources away from the road and tie-up our deputies, and we want to make sure that everyone has the ability and resources if we are called upon.”

Individuals who ignore or continue to ignore an officer’s warning, however, are likely to at least receive a citation.

“Every case is unique because we’re most likely going to deal with people who don’t understand,” DiPietro said. “People may think of social distancing — oh, I’m young. I’m not at risk. But if you have the virus and don’t know it, you could spread it and give it to someone who is at high risk. That’s why it is so important to comply with the order. It may not be your life on the line, but it could be someone else’s — someone who is someone else’s family member.”

District 32 House Representative Tiffiny Mitchell said people living in unincorporated communities and remote areas may be tempted not to take Brown’s executive order seriously, but the truth is everyone has a role to play in “flattening the curve” so that COVID-19 doesn’t sweep through the population and overwhelm our healthcare system.

“Believing that because you live in a remote area means that you don’t need to take the order seriously creates a false sense of security. Even those in remote areas still need to shop at a grocery store or interact with others at times (for example, jobs),” Mitchell wrote in an email to the Banks Post. “Unless you know where every person you come into contact with has been for the past two weeks, and because COVID-19 may present as asymptomatic — it is simply impossible to account for all of the different factors at play. 

“I would ask that every Oregonian, whether they live in a city or in a remote area, to please take the governor’s order seriously for as long as it is in place,” she said. 

The city of Banks has a list of links on its website (look for the COVID-19 link at the top of the homepage) to resources and more information about the new strain of coronavirus. 

Additionally, the Oregon Health Authority has a webpage dedicated to providing Oregonians with the latest COVID-19 information. That webpage can be found on the OHA website here.

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