Orange County sheriff issues warning to UNC-Chapel Hill students about COVID-19 rules

Coronavirus

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As UNC-Chapel Hill students return to campus, the Orange County sheriff spoke out Friday about possibly issuing misdemeanor citations to students who continue to violate COVID-19 executive orders or have “egregious” violations.

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood issued a statement Friday afternoon ahead of students returning to classes Monday. Many students have moved back onto campus over the last few days this week.

Blackwood said that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic his office has “chosen to approach violations with education and encouragement, not with citations.”

However, in the statement, Blackwood pointed out that it is a class 2 misdemeanor to violate any restriction established by an Executive Order.

Backwood said that he said he believes students know what the “community expects of them.”

“If students fail to meet those expectations, we will obviously need to approach the problem with a different strategy,” Blackwood said in the statement.

Here is the full statement from Blackwood:

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office echoes the concerns expressed by municipal law enforcement agencies within Orange County and the UNC Police Department that Covid-19 is a serious health threat and that the behavior of UNC students affects people well beyond the walls of the university.

On August 4, 2020, Governor Roy Cooper extended Phase 2 of North Carolina’s re-opening plan until September 11, 2020. Said Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood, “Law enforcement officers are like everyone else – we are very eager to get back to what we remember as normal. We ask everyone to do their part to keep our community safe as we work through the recently extended Phase 2. We want to see businesses re-opening, we want students to return safely to schools, and we want our financially devastated neighbors to recover.  We do not want to see the number of infections climb and we do not want to go backwards with regard to the good work this county has done in response to this dangerous virus.”

Many Orange County residents and leaders are concerned the return of thousands of students will cause infection numbers to spike, particularly if students ignore the provisions of standing Executive Orders that restrict the size of public gatherings and order the wearing of face coverings in public.

G.S. 14-288.20A makes it a class 2 misdemeanor to violate any restriction established by an Executive Order. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, area law enforcement agencies have chosen to approach violations with education and encouragement, not with citations,” said Blackwood. “That remains our preferred response. But repeated violations or egregious violations cannot be tolerated – it is not fair to the permanent residents of this county. I feel confident all students arriving for the first time or returning to Chapel Hill this month know what the campus and the community expects of them. If students fail to meet those expectations, we will obviously need to approach the problem with a different strategy.”

— Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood

The warning came days after a video circulating social media showed students not properly social distancing at a sorority event off-campus.

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