Authorities Continue To Cite COVID-19 Health Order Violations In Athens

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Three more people in Athens are facing charges of violating Ohio’s “stay-at-home” health order to practice physical distancing in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

According to police reports, Athens police officers responded to two separate “nuisance parties” on Mill Street Friday, April 3, where the Ohio University students were encountered.

Matthew James Goepfert, 22, and Michael Townsley, 22, were both cited at 89 Mill Street shortly after 4 P.M.  Approximately one hour later, officers were called to 68 Mill Street where Alexa Sicilian, 22, was accused of violating the state-issued health order.

On Tuesday, March 31, a student was charged with the same offense.  The violation is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

Goepfert says he and his friends weren’t being loud and he thought they were following the rules, “There were exactly 10 people sitting outside in front of the house. We didn’t think we were doing anything wrong or in violation of any code. We were just trying to enjoy the nice weather.” He admits they weren’t always 6 feet apart, but says they weren’t trying to be disrespectful or put anyone at risk.

Lt. Ross Holter says in general, people seem to know about the health order but simply haven’t read it thoroughly, “They think it’s about having only 10 people but they’re not looking at Section 3 where it explains prohibited activities.” The Ohio Health Department issued the mandate on Sunday, March 22, as a way to decrease exposure to COVID-19. With few exceptions, the order prohibits gatherings of any size and is now scheduled to stay in effect until May 1.

Authorities have the discretion to issue warnings or citations when it comes to enforcing the health order. Lt. Holter explained, “Officers spent much of last weekend just warning people. But earlier this week the Chief [Tom Pyle] said it was time to go beyond warnings so everyone understands how serious this is. And even now, if it is just 3 or 4 people sitting together, maybe we’ll just talk to them.” He added that officers find out about the gatherings due to calls from concerned residents who are trying to keep everyone safe.

“I get it, it’s a nice day, you want to enjoy it with your friends, but you have to think about the at-risk people you might come in contact with when you do go out shopping at Walmart, for instance. You could be putting those people in danger. And we’re all in this together. We have to do all that we can to keep the numbers [of infected people] as low as possible.”