The Hopkins County Sheriff issued stern advice Thursday about people remaining indoors during the COVID-19 outbreak. But the Madisonville Mayor tried to reassure residents about what might be ahead.
“If you guys don’t start staying in unless you absolutely need to be out... then restrictions will likely get tighter,” Sheriff Matt Sanderson wrote on Facebook. He explained later that the post was meant as an advisory, not a threat.
“I’m just trying to be preventative,” Sanderson said. His department has not seen any abuse of the health restrictions ordered by Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.
The Sheriff’s Office also posted an advisory that speculation about a nationwide lockdown and martial law declaration by President Trump is false.
“There’s nothing remotely like that,” Beshear said at a late-afternoon briefing. “That’s not real and that’s fear.”
Several states have called up the National Guard to help with the government response to COVID-19. Mayor Kevin Cotton said Thursday that if the National Guard is deployed in Hopkins County, it would not be a prelude to martial law.
“Anytime that a state of emergency is declared, the National Guard is automatically called up,” Cotton told WTTL radio. “It’s going to be support for the state... not in any type of law enforcement.” Beshear issued a COVID-19 state of emergency Friday, March 6.
Sanderson assumes National Guard personnel are in stand-by mode. He agreed with Cotton’s explanation of their possible role.
“They would not take over,” Sanderson said. Their duties would be to provide things such as “humanitarian aid, a traffic role.”
New Jersey began a statewide curfew this week. Non-essential travel is not allowed there between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Could Hopkins County be next?
“I have absolutely zero plans to do that at this time,” Judge-Executive Jack Whitfield Jr. said Thursday. Any local order would come from him, under a state of emergency he declared Tuesday. So far, Beshear has not issued a curfew order across Kentucky.
In fact, Sanderson said his deputies are less likely to arrest scofflaws right now. That’s also a COVID-19 prevention step.
“In less serious cases, we’re citing people to court instead of making an arrest,” he said. “We want to be careful about spreading the virus.” As of Thursday afternoon, the Hopkins County Jail was 41 inmates below capacity.
To protect deputies from possibly receiving the virus, Sanderson said they’re speaking to residents at a distance while on field calls. Deputies enter homes only when it’s necessary.
“Some minor cases are being handled over the phone,” Sanderson added.