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Police working to educate public on virus directives

One of the agencies charged with ensuring that Pennsylvania residents and businesses comply with recent orders designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 must strike “a delicate balance” between education and enforcement, according to an agency leader who spoke during a teleconference Tuesday.

The state police always prefer voluntary compliance, and that applies even more powerfully under the current extraordinary circumstances, given the “unprecedented stress” of the situation for businesses and residents, said Scott Price, the agency’s deputy commissioner for operations.

Still, the emphasis could change into “an enforcement posture,” if necessary, as non-essential business closures and the stay-home order continues, according to Price.

Since enforcement of the business closure order began on March 23, officers through Monday have filed 205 warnings, but no citations, with 22 warnings in Troop G counties, which includes five of the six local ones, and 28 in Troop A counties, which include Cambria, according to an agency news release.

Since enforcement of the stay-home order began April 1, officers through Sunday have filed six warnings and two citations, with two warnings in the Troop A counties, according to a news release.

State police officers, known for traffic enforcement, are not stopping motorists specifically for COVID enforcement, according to Price.

There has been “tangible” evidence of compliance so far in the 76-percent reduction of non-commercial traffic and the 27-percent reduction of commercial traffic on the turnpike, Price said.

Residents “seem to be getting the message,” he said.

Still, if compliance should flag, because of backsliding or the temptations of spring weather, the welfare of residents could be in jeopardy, so that a stricter approach would be needed, Price said.

The “soft opening” Tuesday of the state’s trout season presented an opportunity for soft enforcement, in cooperation with officers of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Price indicated.

That soft opening is intended keep down crowds and enable participants to keep their distance from one another, indicated Price and State Health Secretary Rachel Levine, who spoke on her department’s daily COVID webcast Tuesday.

For protection of its officers and the public, the agency has instructed those officers to “limit contact” as much as possible, according to Price.

And during the past week, the agency has been accumulating protective gear, he said.

It has begun distributing to all officers cloth masks designed to protect the public.

“We don’t want to have an asymptomatic trooper pass on (an infection),” Price said.

It has also been building up a supply of N95 masks, safety glasses and even rain ponchos, which are designed to protect the wearers in risky situations, as when dealing with someone who’s likely COVID-positive, according to Price.

Officers are also receiving spray disinfectant, he said.

Even before the pandemic, as a post-911 tactic, officers were provided with Tyvek suits and gas masks, Price said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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