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Education before enforcement to encourage social distancing, says county executive

Brett Dahlberg
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said Monday that people should call 911 to report gatherings that violate social distancing guidelines.

Monroe County will dispatch law enforcement officers to gatherings that violate New York’s social distancing guidelines, County Executive Adam Bello said at a news conference Monday.

But he said the aim is first to educate people about the importance of the rules, and he plans to penalize only repeat offenders.

“You should be engaging with the community before there’s a punitive measure,” said Bello.

“We should be offering advice and counsel to folks on how they can do those activities and stay connected but do it in a responsible way. I do think it’s more responsible to start with education, and then we can look at our enforcement options.”

The county executive said gatherings of people outside of household groups could accelerate the spread of the novel coronavirus in the Rochester area. He said he wants people to call 911 when they see people gathered, but he also said there should be some flexibility in the response to those calls.

“You’re always going to have one-offs, but what I’m interested in is finding out where are the areas that have repeated violations of those social distancing protocols so that we can send law enforcement to be able to educate and be able to break that up,” said Bello. 

On Sunday morning, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren had one of those “one-offs” after three people were shot, one fatally, on the 1200 block of Clifford Avenue. A video uploaded to -- and later deleted from -- social media showed that an outpouring of grief led to dozens of people crowding the corner of Clifford Avenue and Miller Street.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren says a group that gathered to mourn the death of a shooting victim on Sunday were allowed to assemble, but will not be permitted to gather again.

Warren said Monday in a separate news conference that city police were on scene, and the group was peaceful and told not to return to the site in large groups. 

“To insert ourselves into the middle of that and to put our officers or potentially the people that were there into harm's way was not a decision that we thought was needed at that point and time,” Warren said.

“Going forward, because they’ve already gathered, already mourned, we will tell people that they cannot gather at that site in that way any longer, but yesterday, that’s what this community needed.”

Rochester Police Department Public Information Officer Frank Camp said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s PAUSE order “stops short of discouraging people to leave their homes entirely.”

“Notwithstanding, officers of the Rochester Police Department did respond to monitor the situation, and to take the opportunity to remind and educate people in regards to safe social distancing and why it is important at this time,” said Camp.

Bello said aggressive social distancing has slowed the spread of COVID-19 and prevented Monroe County’s hospitals from being overwhelmed.

“The better we do with this -- the lower we keep that curve -- the better the hospital systems are going to be able to deal,” Bello said. “We’re still losing far too many people.”

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