Officials around the country using drones to promote social distancing

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kim Andrade was just walking along Daytona beach when a drone came buzzing by. It caught her attention, and she even went ahead and snapped a few photos.

What she did not expect to learn, however, is that the drone can "talk."

“This is the Volusia Sheriff’s office, please adhere to social distancing guidelines,” said a voice piping out of the unit’s onboard speaker.

“It speaks? They can speak through it? Wow,” Andrade said to Fox News.

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The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office told Fox News that it currently has 18 drones at its disposal. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, officials are increasingly turning to them.

One of the drones owned by the Volusia County Sheriff's Office hovering over Daytona Beach in Florida (Chris Pontius, Fox News).

One of the drones owned by the Volusia County Sheriff's Office hovering over Daytona Beach in Florida (Chris Pontius, Fox News).

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“Unfortunately in law enforcement, we can’t practice social distancing,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood told Fox News. “People are still committing crimes, people are still being knuckleheads and having these pop-up block parties.”

Chitwood explains that by using the drones, they can encourage social distancing using the drone’s speakers and can break up large gatherings of people without running the risk of getting a deputy infected.

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood (right) monitors the drone with his iPad while deputies remotely pilot (Chris Pontius, Fox News)

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood (right) monitors the drone with his iPad while deputies remotely pilot (Chris Pontius, Fox News)

“We can say ‘hey, you in the blue shirt, we’re watching. And, we don’t want to send deputies in, so why don’t you respect us and follow the guidelines and let’s break up this party,” explained Chitwood.

The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is not alone in its use of drones amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Mayor of Meriden, Conn., announced on Facebook that his city will begin using drones as well, writing: "Meriden Police have launched their drone, which will be used to remind residents of the social distancing orders that are in place."

Other Police Departments now on board include Daytona Beach, Fla., Savannah, Ga., and Elizabeth, N.J.

The Daytona Beach Police Department told Fox 35 that its drones are equipped with a digital camera and a heat-detecting device, what's known as a FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared). The system can detect body temperatures ranging from 99-105 degrees.

“Let's say if you have a 103 fever. That'll come in handy letting us know at a glance, 'Are you someone who possibly has the virus?' 'Do we need to make sure you have extra precautions,'” said Sgt. Tim Ehrenkaufer, who runs the drone unit.

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The Elizabeth Police Department took to Facebook and responded to concerns that the use of the unmanned aircraft will violate individuals’ privacy.

“Regarding the comments on the drones, we are just trying to save lives, not trying to be big brother," the post reads. "If this plan saves one life, then it is worth it. All the drones are doing is spreading an automated notice about keeping your social distance. There is no recording and no pictures being taken, it is a tool of encouragement to follow the rules.”

Chitwood contends that the drones improve safety for both his deputies and the community. If they're used within the boundaries of the law and with responsibility, he thinks more departments could benefit from using them as well.

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"It’s another tool in the toolbox," said Chitwood. "At the end of the day, my job as the sheriff is to protect my deputies and my community. And, if these drones can give us this extra level of protection, I’m all for it and we’re going to utilize it in a legal, safe, responsible manner."

Robert Sherman joined Fox News in 2019 as a multimedia reporter based in Orlando, Florida.