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Salem residents warned not to congregate

SALEM — People can go to the parks, walk the track at Sebo Stadium, go to the store for necessary groceries or get gas or prescriptions. They can go to work if considered essential.

But they better be keeping their distance from each other and they better have a valid reason for being out, or they could face a second-degree misdemeanor for violating the stay-at-home and social distancing order related to the coronavirus outbreak.

Police Chief J.T. Panezott said he’s getting complaints about groups congregating at the parks, in pavilions, and at the stadium on the track and football field. Citizens both young and old aren’t following the order for social distancing while out and he’s putting the people on notice.

He and his officers don’t want to charge anyone for violating the order by Ohio Department of Health

Director Dr. Amy Acton, but they will if they have to – people need to take it seriously.

“I really get upset. The order’s out there, people know it and we still have to talk to people about it,” he said.

Panezott said he spoke with Mayor John Berlin and Salem City Schools Superintendent Sean Kirkland about the situation at Sebo Stadium and all are in agreement. If people are there, they need to do social distancing of at least 6 feet.

“I had people throwing footballs. They’re not related, they’re passing germs around,” he said. “We are doing everything in our power to keep that stadium open, but if we can’t keep it under control, we will close it.”

Panezott said people need to cooperate. There are no organized sports right now, the playgrounds are off-limits and people are still getting together. Every time officers have to get out of their cars to handle these type of complaints, they’re getting exposed and so are the people involved.

He especially wants the younger people to pay attention to the social distancing order. They shouldn’t be out riding around with their friends just to be out.

On traffic stops, people will be asked why they’re out and they better have a legitimate reason or else. Violation of the order can result in a fine and possible jail time.

“We’re all hoping for a celebration when this is over, not a summons in the court,” Panezott said.

He did notice traffic is lighter, but he wants to see less traffic on the streets. He said people shouldn’t be in cars with someone from a different household because it’s hard to do social distancing in a vehicle. He acknowledged that taxis and buses are exempt. He also acknowledged that there are people on the streets on their way to jobs that have been deemed vital, not just police and fire.

“There are a lot of people that have to be out there and we’re thankful for all of them,” he said.

The governor and Acton have been stressing the need to “flatten the curve” by reducing the chances for exposure, thereby reducing the chances for people to get sick and reducing the strain on hospitals.

Panezott said it’s “all about keeping our hospitals functioning.”

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