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Rhonda Silence
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Sheriff’s office reminds outdoor enthusiasts to practice social distancing

After receiving a report from a concerned listener about anglers not following the Minnesota Department of Health’s recommendations for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and Governor Tim Walz’s “Stay Home Minnesota” order, WTIP reached out to Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen to learn more.

Cook County Law Enforcement dispatcher received two calls on Friday, April 10 at about 6:30 p.m., reporting “a group of 12-15 men, in their 40s with 8-10 vehicles (hummer, jeeps, trucks) out fishing and not practicing social distancing” at Kimball Creek, east of Grand Marais.

Both callers said the men were drinking and fishing while standing shoulder-to-shoulder. Neither caller recognized any of the men as local residents.

Sheriff Eliasen said a deputy responded to the call and spoke to the fishermen. Eliasen said the group were parties that live on the west end of the county who had traveled up the shore to fish at Kimball Creek.

WTIP asked Sheriff Eliasen if participants in such gatherings could receive any sort of legal penalties. In an email, the sheriff replied, “The ‘Stay at Home Order’ is a misdemeanor violation and people can be cited, or even arrested for not obeying it.”

Sheriff Eliasen said no one has been cited in Cook County, but Eliasen said the sheriff’s office has given several verbal warnings. The social distance guidelines apply whether fishing, hiking, biking or any other activity.

He explained, “The governor encourages people to get outside and enjoy the outdoors while getting some exercise. Unfortunately, the order is very broad and many activities are still fine if people are practicing the correct distancing and sanitizing principles.”

WTIP asked the sheriff if he had a comment for Cook County about the governor’s order. Sheriff Eliasen wrote, “During this time, it is imperative that we practice social distancing to assist in turning the tide of infection. Outdoor activity is a wonderful way to relieve stress, especially during the stay-at-home period but it must be done responsibly.

“Although you feel that you will not become infected, you must absolutely consider the chance that you could inadvertently pass the virus to someone who may not be so lucky. These people are our family and friends and we must do our part to help them even if it inconveniences us for a short period of time.”

For information on how to protect yourself and your family, visit the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 information section.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Cook County Public Health Supervisor Grace Grinager about the importance of, and legal requirements regarding social distancing while doing things like fishing and hiking along the North Shore at this time. Listen to that discussion in the audio below.