ONEONTA, Ala. (WIAT) — In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an Alabama sheriff said he cannot bring himself to enforce parts of Governor Kay Ivey’s Safer at Home order, particularly when it comes to small businesses and religious organizations.

“We’re not arresting preachers or fining pastors. We’re not going into small businesses and fining them or arresting them for opening. We’re just not going to do it,” said Blount County Sheriff Mark Moon in an interview Monday.

Moon first posted a similar comment to social media over the weekend in response to a question from a citizen.

He told CBS 42 he does not plan to make arrests.

“If they chose to open up, again, I’m not going to in and grab them and throw them in jail for trying to support their families,” said Moon.

So far, Moon said his department has not received a lot of calls about businesses violating the order.

“For the most part, we haven’t had any problems with any of the small businesses or churches or anybody violating the order,” said Moon.

In a rural county with several small businesses and churches, Moon said he knows many neighbors are feeling the pinch.

“I can’t do that in my heart. I can’t punish somebody who feels like opening their business or their church is what’s best for them, their congregations or their families,” said Moon.

The sheriff is also a longtime pastor at Countyline Baptist Church in Trafford. He said his congregation has held in a drive-up setting and online.

“It’s been fantastic. We’ve had great turnouts. Lots of people watching, lots of comments. Some of the most spirit filled time that I have experienced in the last few years,” said Moon.

Despite Moon’s comments about the state health order, in the Blount County seat of Oneonta, the city manager said officers will enforce it.

“We are bound by the governor directives through the Alabama Public Health Department office and until they make the decision to amend or relax those orders, we intend to enforce them,” said Edward Lowe, Oneonta City Manager.

Lowe said he would also like to see a healthy economy return, but wants to make sure it is done safely based on decisions from lawmakers and health leaders.

“I don’t think it is over. I think as a society, we’re going to have to learn some new norms and learn to operate and to have an economy based on those and move forward from there,” said Lowe.
Moon said he understands that other municipalities may take a different approach.

“I’m not going to condemn them for that. If they feel like they’re doing what’s best for their towns, what is best for their cities, then they are going to do what they feel like is best. The reason I said what I said is because I feel like that is best for the county,” said Moon.

Sheriff Moon said he has family members in the healthcare industry, but has not been personally impacted by coronavirus. He knows others may disagree with him.

“There may be some out there who have had a family member get sick or either die or almost die, or have troubles, so I can understand why they would feel compelled to not want to open up and possibly infect some other people. I can totally empathize with that,” said Moon.

Moon believes businesses that require a state license will be motivated to adhere to the state’s health order.

“Those businesses, they know if the state catches them doing something out of the order, they’re going to lose their license and that would really be detrimental to their liveliehood, so they’re not going to open up anyway,” said Moon.

Moon is hopeful state leaders will make changes to allow area small businesses and churches to reopen soon.

“Alabama people are smart enough to take precautions and do what is right to protect themselves and others. Just trust us,” Moon said.

If a citizen calls in to report a violation of the state health order, Moon said his deputies will respond and educate the business owner or church leader involved. He does not plan to write citations.

A state order includes possible fines for places that violate the mandatory restrictions.

Blount County has about 58,000 residents northeast of Birmingham. It has at least 40 cases and no reported deaths of COVID-19.