This afternoon, Sheriff Billy Honsal took questions from the media on a variety of COVID-related topics, including the reopening of the casinos, sports leagues resuming meetings, his understanding of the balance between law enforcement’s roles educating the public and enforcing orders, and more.
Below: A rough transcript of the questions asked and Honsal’s answers, with the minute markers to which they correspond in the video above.
(0:00) Dr. Frankovich recently said that the increase in cases is likely due to people not follow the shelter-in-place order. There have been reports of people reopening their gyms for secret sessions, and people getting haircuts from hairdressers in their homes. Is law enforcement still taking an “education” stance, and what would it take for law enforcement to switch to an “enforcement” stance?
We want voluntary compliance throughout the county. We understand that people have less and less patience as time goes on, and that people will try to test the boundaries. We had reports of businesses opening up last week; we went to them, and they shut down.
No one’s going to jail over these kinds of issues right now. We’re not emptying the jail to fill it with people who violate the shelter-in-place order. But we will issue citations.
(2:20) As we see cases increase in the county, do you expect law enforcement out in the community enforcing social distancing guidelines, or masking? Will there be more of a shift from education to fines?
Recently the office received a report of crowding at a local beach. The office went up and checked it out — the parking lot was crowded, but people were mostly keeping their distance.
We want to get compliance from people. The last thing we want to do is fine people, or issue citations, but we are taking everything seriously.
(3:40) What kind of enforcement is there for sports leagues, such as the Humboldt Eagles, which began team functions Monday?
Sports leagues will be coming on line very soon. The governor said recently that pro sports could be back by June. By having people get together and conditioning — each league is going to have to consider what their programs look like.
Contact sports are out, but exercise is part of the order. I spoke with one league — they’re exercising and maintaining distance in preparation for when games can resume. I’m not giving them permission to do that, but I’m checking in on them.
(5:40) That team is reportedly coached by a member of law enforcement. Has that allowed the team more privileges with the county?
No. They’re not allowed to violate the shelter-in-place guidelines, and they’re not allowed to break the law. I get calls from people all the time asking about their proposals, and how they might work. There are no special privileges grants.
People are gathering to work while maintaining distance — not sharing common equipment, but exercising. I believe that meets the requirements of the health officer’s order.
(6:50) What would an outbreak in the jail look like?
Because the population of the jail is low, we can shut down a portion of the facility to disinfect it. We can isolate people who test positive. But there are still strong prevention protocols in place.
(8:30) The Bear River Casino says it is opening May 24. Did they get permission to open from you or the health officer? Do they need it?
In California, civil and regulatory law does not apply on public land. The tribe came into compliance early on, but they are a sovereign nation and they can decide to open up if they like. The public health officer has come out and said that we do not believe this is a good time to open, but they are sovereign nation and they can open if they like.
They have a plan in place. It’s a thorough plan. There are other rancherias and casinos here that are looking at the same thing. Several casinos down south are also looking to up.
When these casinos do open up, it does potentially expose our community. So we urge them to use whatever precautions necessary for the safety of their employees and their customers.
(10:30) Even with some restrictions, doesn’t opening table games and slot machines put the public at greater risk for COVID?
Yes, for sure. There are control measures that can be put in place, but I’m not sure how they’d work with table games. Those are things that people are going to have feel comfortable with.
One thing I’m stressing is that we want people to feel safe at work, and we want consumers to feel safe doing business at places. Customers will be looking, when they come into a store or a casino, at the safety measures in place.
So far, the casinos have down a lot for our community. They care for our community. I know they want to open, but definitely at a reduced capacity and hopefully with safety measures in place.
(12:00) Anything else?
Congratulations to Sgt. Tim Hammer, who retired after 20 years at the correctional facility. Also, I want to remember James Senestraro, who recently passed away — a longtime correctional officer.
Also: There have been two deaths of elderly people at a care facility in Humboldt County. As we open up, there will be people getting sick. People will die. This is a serious issue. Take it seriously. Wear a face covering. Wash your hands. Protect people.