New restrictions on social gatherings and business operations put in place in St. Joseph this week are, ultimately, the authority of the city’s health department, but police intervention could happen in certain situations.
After approving the guidelines on Tuesday, which restrict crowd size to 10 people or less and stop some businesses from opening for the time being, Mayor Bill McMurray told News-Press NOW that the police department could enforce them, but likely won’t.
“To a certain extent they can, but this is going to come down to, again, personal responsibility,” McMurray said. “There are penalties in the city code. You can be fined or incarcerated, but I certainly don’t think we’re going to fine or incarcerate people.”
Police Chief Chris Connally said the enforcement is mostly up to the health department, and municipal regulations are a common thing that typically do not involve police action.
“I don’t actually think we need to get into the enforcement conversation, because responsible business owners will do what they’re required to do,” Connally said.
Director of the St. Joseph Health Department Debra Bradley said citations can be given and businesses owners could even lose their licenses if they refuse to comply, but right now the goal of her department is to inform the public of the new rules.
“We’re actually going to go out and try to encourage compliance,” Bradley said. “Some people may not even have heard. Maybe they don’t work in town… or maybe they’re just running their business.”
She said the same type of action taken in the early stages of the smoking ban passed in 2014 will be used now, but on a much more rapid scale. Health department representatives will go to businesses to inform them that they need to close or follow certain rules in the new order.
If a business owner refuses to follow those rules or does not close, they could be eventually sent to an administrative hearing where they could lose their license, but only after first being ticketed.
“I’m thinking though, after you get a ticket or two you’re going to comply, probably,” Bradley said.
She said the police department could get involved in certain situations to assist with enforcement.
Connally said his department’s involvement, aside from enforcing all of the same laws officers already do on a daily basis, will be only to respond to any kind of social disorder that could come about.
“We could be required to disperse a crowd, but that’s about it,” Connally said.
Connally and McMurray both stated that arresting someone and putting them in jail for violating the order would be impractical during a pandemic due to health concerns.
McMurray hopes that people will understand the importance of the temporary restrictions and urged business owners and customers to do the right thing.
“Come on, be personally responsible and we’ll all get through this together if we all work together and cooperate,” McMurray said.
Connally said if other, larger cities around the country have been able to enact these orders without threatening arrest, St. Joseph will be able to do so as well.
According to Bradley, the order does not allow her department to enforce the less-than-10-people rule at residences, meaning house parties and cookouts will not be regulated. However, she did strongly urge the public to follow that rule in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Please, people, stay home,” she said.
The 15-day limitations began March 19 and are scheduled to end on April 2. However, the situation will continue to be evaluated and the guidelines could continue if deemed necessary.
- Public health expert warns virus not going away – KSAT San Antonio
- Tesla asks employees to resume production at Fremont car plant despite coronavirus health orders – CNBC
- Major health groups and charities urge Trump to reverse World Health Organization funding decision – CNN
- Public health officials push back on May opening | TheHill – The Hill
- Analysis | The Health 202: Los Angeles is racing to discover the true coronavirus infection rate – The Washington Post
- Some Public Health Officials Not Releasing Coronavirus Hospitalizations : Shots – Health News – NPR
- Covid-19 health-care crisis could drive new developments in robotics, editorial says – The Washington Post
- Lost Your Health Insurance During the COVID-19 Crisis? Here Are Your Options – The Motley Fool
- El Paso virus cases jump to 35 as health leaders warn of increased risk of ‘community spread’ – KVIA El Paso