Linn County authorities announced they would not criminally enforce the executive order issued by Gov. Kate Brown that limits the number of people that can gather, a move she said was meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"We understand the realities of COVID-19, but we draw the line when we are dealing with decisions relating to individual residences, religion, or businesses," said a statement released Thursday by Linn County Sheriff Jim Yon and District Attorney Doug Marteeny.
The order came on the back of several record-breaking days of COVID-19 case totals as a way to limit the spread of the virus. Gatherings, Brown said, should be limited if they include people who don't live under the same roof. The limit, she said, is six people from two different households.
LCSO decided in April, Yon said, that the approach to orders related to coronavirus would be education first.
"Our role in the community is not to count how many people are at a residence or how an individual business conducts its affairs. We definitely do not interfere with religious organizations," the statement read. "We are going to continue to educate citizens, as needed, and that is where we will stop."
On Tuesday, the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association released a statement on its social media accounts asking that the public comply with the governor's two-week freeze on social gatherings, non-essential travel and certain other activities.
"Oregonians have a strong tradition of unifying to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities. As your fellow community members, please join us in adhering to the governor’s executive order during the two-week freeze," the statement read, noting that education was its preferred response to COVID-19 violations.
"We recognize the inconvenience the pandemic and subsequent restrictions have caused all of us," the statement continued. "We also know that the risk of spreading COVID-19 to our most vulnerable populations is extremely high at this time, so we urge everyone to follow these restrictions in order to protect them. After all, we are all in this together."
The association said it would use criminal citations, which are permitted by the executive order, as a last resort.
Albany police also clarified that the department would take an education-first, warning-second approach to violators.
Chief Marcia Harnden asked that residents "use common sense" and work to protect their health as well as the health of others.
On Thursday, the statement released by Yon and Marteeny noted that businesses are struggling and people are feeling isolated.
"We trust citizens to assess risk and take precautions as appropriate given their individual circumstances," their statement read. "We are not going to criminally enforce the COVID-19 restrictions contained in the governor’s order."
Brown said she expects local law enforcement to take an education-first approach but that violations are punishable under the law. A violation, if criminally cited, could carry a penalty of up to $1,250, 30 days in jail or both.