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Church cited under state order
Five members charged after GSP warning
covid
A family gets some fresh air at the Mill Creek Regional Park playground on Friday, April 3 before the Governor's shelter-in-place order went into effect at 6 p.m. With eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bulloch County, local law enforcement agencies have begun enforcing Gov. Brian Kemp's order to observe social distancing. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT/staff

With eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Bulloch County, local law enforcement agencies have begun enforcing Gov. Brian Kemp's order to observe social distancing. On Sunday, Georgia State Patrol Post 45 troopers issued five citations to people gathered at a local church.

According to GSP Post 45 secretary Ginger Robbins, the five people were charged with reckless conduct, a misdemeanor that could lead to a fine of $1,000 and/or 90 days in jail. The people cited were ignoring the social distancing mandates to only gather in groups of 10 or fewer and to stay 6 feet apart.

Robbins said troopers were called to an unnamed church twice Sunday before issuing citations. The first time they responded, they issued warnings.

Bulloch County sheriff's Capt. Todd Hutchens said the Sheriff's Office was made aware of the issue but that State Patrol handled the case. 

Churches can legally hold services if they "find a way to do so observing (the) 6 six feet apart and less than 10" mandate, he said. This means churches may hold drive-in services, outdoor services with small groups or online services. Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn urged residents to obey the state mandate. 

But “don’t call 911" to report violations, he said. Instead, anyone who sees a violation of the social distancing order should call the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at (912) 764-8888, the Statesboro Police Department at (912) 764-9911 or the Georgia State Patrol at (912) 688-6000.

Regarding Bulloch's eight confirmed cases of COVID-19, Wynn said authorities are not divulging how many are currently being treated at local hospitals. He warns residents that the virus is highly contagious, and it is urgent that the governor's orders be obeyed.

"The cases in Dougherty County that have resulted in so many deaths have been linked directly to two funerals" where people were sick with the coronavirus, he said. "Please help us stop this from spreading."

Statesboro's United Pentecostal Church Pastor Randy Watts said he has been curious as to what options his church has for services.

"We want to abide by the letter of the law," Watts said.

His church is considering alternatives to traditional services, including online services and possibly drive-in services, as long as the sheriff approves, he said.

"I recommend any other churches call the sheriff for approval before making any decisions," he said.

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