Oregon sheriff says county will reopen amid coronavirus, won't punish nonessential businesses

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Crook County Sheriff John Gautney announced on Monday that his office will not punish nonessential businesses as they reopen in Oregon, despite the risks of the novel coronavirus.

"I don't want to see more families hurt by the virus, and it is terrible what families that have lost a loved one have gone through. My heart goes out to them. I, in no way, want to lessen the importance of their loss," Gautney said in a statement posted to Facebook.

"Many are concerned that law enforcement will arrest anyone who violates the stay-at-home order. That [is] simply not true for the Crook County Sheriff's Office," he continued. "As we have seen released in the media more than once; that Oregon law enforcement's role in this is that of EDUCATION if they see a violation. The enforcement role falls to the organization that issues licenses for that particular business."

Gautney added: "If a business decides to open, that is a decision the business owner makes."

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He then cited the Constitution and said America is a "free society" that makes decisions based on "common sense."

"They have the right to choose," Gautney said. "I know this is going to draw disapproval by some and that is OK. That is their right to do so. That is what our country is based on."

The sheriff also said his office will be open for business as of Tuesday and encouraged residents to share any questions or concerns they may have.

"I believe in supporting the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Oregon, and the laws thereof," he added. "I also try to apply common sense in the application of those laws."

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As of Tuesday evening, there were more than 1.2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and more than 70,000 deaths.