Sheriff Rick Staly is urging Palm Coast and Flagler County residents to comply with new, mandatory stay-at-home orders starting Friday, saying communities will not arrest their way out of the coronavirus. But shifting to meet what he expects to be a considerable new challenge as recommendations turn to strict orders, he said he was ready to kick in enforcement measures, including notices to appear or even arrests.
“I would rather have these individuals self-comply. We don’t need to turn a health crisis into a criminal offense,” Staly said in an interview this afternoon. “This truly is a war. The difference is, the enemy is invisible and silent, but everyone in America, not just in our community, is a foot soldier in that war. A good soldier follows the order, whether you agree with them or not. You follow the orders. And that’s what I think we need to have happen here and in America. I think for the most part people are complying.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis this afternoon issued an executive order requiring all Floridians to shelter at home except for essential services. Hours later, Palm Coast issued an order echoing the state version, with a list of businesses and services that may keep functioning, and a list of permissible activities for residents. The orders together reflect nothing short of generalized quarantine orders rarely seen in history except at times of widespread scourges such as London’s plague outbreak in 1665, which killed 100,000 people. The majority of Americans are now under mandatory stay-at-home orders. Florida’s will last at least until May 1.
The list of permissible activities and business and services remains so lengthy, however, as to seem as if it covers most existing businesses. It includes all grocery stores and all food-production operations, restaurants (for delivery only), banks, hardware stores, laundromats, taxis, health care facilities including all elderly care facilities, home health care operations, law offices, landscape and pool care services, child care facilities, news media operations, all government operations, energy companies and gas stations, all construction sites, architectural offices, all factories and warehouses, waste management services, even marinas. Hotels may continue to operate but must limit their guests only to certain professions, including first responders, health care workers, government and military personnel, and many others. (See a more complete list of exemptions in the Palm Coast order at the foot of the article.)
But hunting for exemptions is the wrong way to see the order, says Jonathan Lord, Flagler County’s emergency management chief. “I think people shouldn’t be finding ways to exempt themselves, they should be finding ways to protect themselves and their neighbor,” Lord said. “The whole country can’t shut down, that’s why there’s that federal list of essential services.”
Lord anticipated the emergency weeks ago, predicting it in a presentation to the County Commission, and has been speaking of the need for a broader, uniform stay-at-home order since last week. “The order really is more about making people realize the seriousness of this statewide,” Lord said. “I am very glad the state has done this. I think it makes the most sense for Floridians as well as Flagler county residents. It should impress upon all of our residents and our visitors that every single one of us can make a difference and should stay home,” Lord said.
Lord, Staly and others have been in discussions about the reach of the state order and enforcement responsibilities, with agreement that education should take precedence over harsher measures, at least at first, with harsher measures applying to repeat offenders. But there is no lack of resolve regarding stricter enforcement, if it becomes necessary. “If people are putting others at risk then I’m very comfortable that law enforcement or our two municipal police departments are ready to do what they should do to stop people from putting others at risk.”
Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland used stern language in a statement appended to the city’s order mirroring the state’s. Palm Coast was among the first local governments to issue a stay-home order last week, though the order was voluntary. No longer. “This mandatory ‘Shelter in Place’ order is necessary for the protection of our community,” Holland said in a release. “I am making it crystal clear — stay home. COVID-19 affects every single demographic and age group. Every one of us is affected by this. For your family, friends, neighbors and entire community, be responsible and stay home. It is the only way to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
Residents and visitors, the city said, may still engage in outdoor activity and recreation in areas not otherwise closed to the public–the city closed all its parks and trails–provided that individuals conduct all such activities in compliance with all measures advised by the Centers for Disease Control and the Florida Department of Health, including but not limited to social distancing.
Law enforcement will be responsible not only to enforce stay-at-home orders, ensuring that businesses that shouldn’t be open remain closed and that people who are going out for non-essential purposes don’t do so. But he said the state health department will also be expecting that violators of quarantine orders, such as those from hot spots like Louisiana and the New York region, and those who are being monitored by the department of health, also face consequences should they not respect the orders. That means an individual who’s tested positive for Covid-19 and who violates the quarantine order could potentially face arrest, creating a dilemma for the sheriff by knowingly potentially exposing deputies and others to the virus.
“I don’t want to knowingly put someone in jail that could be a positive for Covid-19, that’s not a good thing to do.”
Close to 200 people are under monitoring by the Flagler Health Department, and 20 Flagler County residents, have tested positive for the virus, and are under quarantine orders at home. Two were hospitalized. One died this afternoon at Halifax hospital in Daytona Beach.
While Staly and his counsel were still pouring over the pages of state orders and exceptions to the order Wednesday afternoon, he said he was prepared–but not eager–to put up a tent on jail grounds to house individuals arrested for violating quarantine or stay-at-home orders, thus keeping them separate from the general jail population. The agency acquired the military surplus tent and air conditioning for it a year ago. Another option, which Staly says he would prefer, would be to lock ankle monitors on violators. That would give the agency the ability to monitor them in real time, and know immediately if and where they are violating the order. The monitors are typically locked on the ankles of domestic violence offenders. They cost $150 a month, a charge normally paid for by the offender.
“I don’t want the taxpayers to have to pay that just because these people are being idiots in a health care emergency and they won’t cooperate,” Staly said.
The sheriff is expecting orders from the Department of Health and from the circuit’s chief judge sometime in the next few days clarifying from the judiciary’s perspective how and where individuals facing arrest must be held–or not held–though an earlier order by Chief Judge Raul Zambrano made clear that such things as adjudicating quarantine violations are very much among the ongoing “mission critical” duties of the local judiciary. That order outlined vast powers in that regard, all the way down to forcible testing.
Staly said the agency has been getting tips from residents and businesses about alleged violators. He expects that to continue, the difference being that now deputies must enforce orders that were previously more lenient.
But he expects more clarity in the days ahead. “All of that is still being worked out. We do not have an order yet from DOH or the chief judge,” he said.
Lord said he’ll be hoping for uniform standards across the state “because it’s not fair for a resident or a visitor driving down the road to have a different standard apply.” Local law enforcement, however, has generally been in sync with such standards, with the Bunnell and Flagler Beach police chiefs working off of the same approaches as Staly’s and the three agencies operating more as adjuncts of each other than as competing jurisdictions.
Lord says curfews, which might be seen as the next step and have been imposed in certain communities elsewhere in the country, would not be necessary in “sleepy” Flagler, where traffic falls considerably at night anyway. “I don’t know that there is a value to that and I wouldn’t want to impose stricter rules on people for the sake of doing it,” Lord said. But if the sheriff had a concern, Lord said, then the community might collectively do it. But it would have to be tied to a defined outcome, not an imagined problem, Lord said.
Today’s previous update is here.
Sheriff’s Staly’s April 1 Update: