A sign in downtown St. Joseph encourages people to stay at home and stay safe. The city manager gave a public address at Monday's meeting, urging residents to abide by the governor's executive order.

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic, after consulting on a conference call with a criminal division assistant in the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, is providing local authorities with guidance on the enforcement of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Order, 2020-21.

The order, issued Monday, requires Michigan residents to stay at home, with a number of exceptions, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Sepic is encouraging local law enforcement to demonstrate to the public the importance of the “Stay at Home” Executive Order.

“The reasons and importance in light of the current situation with the coronavirus need not be restated,” Sepic said in a news release. “It will be important for law enforcement to follow up on conduct they observe which may be in violation of the order, as well as take complaints from the public. Law enforcement is in a position to educate the public on the importance and the breadth of the order.”

Sepic said the attorney general originally believed her office would be in the forefront of enforcement and prosecution of executive order violations, But the order has created far too many questions from the public and local law enforcement for one agency to handle, Sepic said.

So local authorities are being asked to deal with enforcement and prosecution.

Sepic said he has advised local police agencies that a warning is the preferred response to a first violation. But people who ignore or refuse to comply with a warning should be issued a 90-day/$500 misdemeanor citation for non-compliance, the prosecutor said.

If the situation is one that appears to have clear public health consequences, an order by law enforcement to cease and desist that is ignored could result in an arrest for resisting and obstruction a police officer, a 2-year felony, Sepic said. He said some police agencies are already inspecting businesses and issuing warnings.

He said the Attorney General’s Office will likely continue to review cases of price gouging.

Sepic said businesses specifically listed in EO 2020-21 as necessary to sustain and preserve life include health care and public health; law enforcement, public safety and first responders; food and agriculture; energy; water and wastewater; transportation and logistics; public works; communications and information technology, including news media; other community-based government operations and essential functions; critical manufacturing; hazardous materials mitigation businesses; financial services; chemical supply chains; and defense industrial base.

Some examples of businesses not specifically listed that may operate, but under some constraints including using a minimum number of workers and complying with social distance requirements include: oil change shops; logging trucks; fixing farm machinery; deliveries, if a permissible activity such as food or medications; medical marijuana stores; construction of and repair of roads; and craft stores supplying mask materials.

Some examples of businesses that cannot open to the public are: residential construction; door-to-door sales; golf courses; landscaping nurseries; florists; and pet stores that deal exclusively with pets.

However, Sepic said some of these businesses may fall under exceptions that allow them to conduct minimum business operations “to maintain the value of inventory and equipment, care for animals, ensure security, process transactions (including payroll and employee benefits), or facilitate the ability of other workers to work remotely.”

Questions about EO 2020-21 enforcement should be directed to local law enforcement agencies using non-emergency phone numbers.

Businesses and operations must determine which of their workers are necessary to conduct minimum basic operations and inform such workers of that designation.

Such designations may be made orally until 11:59 p.m. March 31, but after that must be made in writing, whether by hard copy, electronic message, public website or other appropriate means, but under the constraints of EO 2020-21 using a minimum number of workers and complying with social distance requirements: