Local law enforcement agencies are asking people to make sure they are consulting reliable sources for facts, as rumors can cause panic and take up valuable time. (The Enterprise/File)

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VALE – Local police agencies have been fielding hundreds of calls concerning rumors circulated on social media that the border between Idaho and Oregon has been closed and that workers must carry authorization letters to move around as a result of Oregon’s order that people generally are to stay home. 

Law enforcement officials said that people coming into the state from Idaho to work are presenting written letters from their employers stating that they have permission to be in the state, and that employers are concerned that their employees will be arrested on their way to work. 

Local officials told Enterprise that these rumors are completely unfounded and are causing panic among citizens, and lost time for law enforcement. 

The Ontario and Nyssa Police Departments as well as the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police have made official statements about the rumors, assuring the public that they are in fact false and that the border remains open.  

Raymond Rau, the Nyssa police chief, said that his department received hundreds of calls concerning these rumor yesterday. 

Rau said is agency is already busy, and that calls concerning the rumors have wasted quite a bit of valuable time for his officers.

“I think the rumors, people are just starting stuff and in the absence of fact they create their own,” Rau said. 

In an official statement, Rau wrote, “Please help local law enforcement stop the ridiculous rumors that are circulating about officers in Oregon stopping out-of-state vehicles and restricting access to their employment and other essential needs.” 

“We do not need to see a note from your employer giving you permission to be driving in Oregon,” he said 

Rau said that a Facebook post that circulated online alleging that Ontario officers were stopping people with out-of-state license plates, and that people who couldn’t produce a note from their employer were being sent home has caused law enforcement a lot of trouble.

“That post alone generated hundreds of phone calls to NPD, OPD, MCSO and OSP all day yesterday which wasted valuable time and caused panic,” Rau wrote. “It is time that we don’t have as we try to keep ahead of this pandemic and keep people calm.”

Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said, “there has never been any talk ever” about closing the border, and that it is all the result of rumor mill, speculation and paranoia. 

“Our phone rang off the hook of people wanting to know what documentation they have to have to come to Oregon,” Wolfe said. “There is absolutely none. The borders are not going to be closed.” 

Wolfe also made it clear that nobody in law enforcement has any interest in arresting people who violate Gov. Kate Brown’s order to stay home except to go to work at allowed employers, shop for essentials or take private hikes and walks. Violating the order is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by 30 days in jail and. A fine of up to $1,250.

 “You don’t have to have a note from your employer if you are going to work or anything like that,” Wolfe said. 

“If you have the ability, then the governor wants you to stay home rather than to be out and about and potentially spread the virus. But we are not taking any action on anybody,” Wolfe said. 

The only time law enforcement might act, Wolfe said, is if they come across a large gathering. 

Wolfe said in that case, law enforcement would advise people to disperse, and then educate them on why gathering in large crowds is probably not a good idea given the current risk to public health.  

“It has been pretty unreal the calls that we are getting about the border closing,” Wolfe said. 

He said his office field as many as 300 calls on the matter on Tuesday.

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Rau said that he has also heard people spreading rumors about the National Guard deploying. 

“I think they are bored,” Rau said of those spreading rumors. “I think it is just panic and the unknown.” 

“People aren’t taking the time to go verify their sources,” Rau said. 

“I think the rumors, people are just starting stuff and in the absence of fact they are creating their own,” he said. 

Rau said that his department is conducting a lot of its routine business over the phone so as not to risk spreading the virus, but is also making sure to be visible around town to comfort residents, he said. 

Steven Romero, Ontario police chief, said that following conversations he had with both public and private entities, he said it appears that some employees may be using the spread of rumor as a tool for getting out of work while still receiving pay. 

“Every police agency I have spoken too, no one has received any names or officers or cited a specific agency that has done that,” Romero said of people being stopped by law enforcement for crossing the border.

The Oregon State Police last night finally issued a formal statement to combat the rumors, including a question-and-answer. Here is the agency’s information: 

Is this martial law?

No, not even close. There are no curfews and a person’s movements are not restricted under the Governor’s Executive Order. While details are offered in the order relating to social distancing, specific business closures and non-essential social gatherings- Oregonian’s movements are generally unrestricted.

Do I need documentation from my employer deeming me essential?

No. The Governor’s Executive Order closes certain businesses, outlined in section (2). These businesses reflect operations that would make close contact difficult or impossible to avoid. Officers are not asking or looking for any type of special paperwork from your employer.

Do I need a special placard on my car, when going to work or if I drive for work?

No. There is no special documentation or placards for people going to work or permitted activities.

Will I be pulled over for driving on the highway?

Not for violation of the Governor’s Executive Order, which specifically outlines efforts to avoid large gatherings- not restrict the movement of Oregonians. If, however, you are committing a traffic violation or crime that would be enforced independent of the order, you may be stopped, like any other day.

Are the state lines closed and are there roadblocks?

No, traffic is moving freely within Oregon and our border states. There are no roadblocks or restrictions of vehicle movement. Washington State is operating under a similar executive order from their Governor, so Oregonians should be aware of these provisions when traveling in their state.

If my business is closed, can I still go to work if my employer makes me? Won’t I be arrested?

While the order prohibits the public from congregating at a closed business, the employer may still have work to do on site. As long as employees are not conducting business that is prohibited by the Executive Order, it is okay to still be at the worksite. No “passes” or paperwork is required.

Are rest areas open?

Yes, generally. Some rest areas are connected to parks, which are currently closed to comply with the Executive Order.

Are police arresting or ticketing people in public or in violation of the Governor’s Executive Order?

People that violate the Governor’s Order in an Emergency Declaration could be arrested or cited, which is a C Misdemeanor- the lowest level of criminal conduct designation. All Oregon law enforcement are united on the premise that police action is extremely undesirable and we hope to educate Oregonians if congregating in violation of the Governor’s Order. Citation or arrest would be an extreme last resort if a person failed to comply with the lawful direction of a police officer.

What about my kids that may congregate in a place without my permission, like a skate park?

Police know our children don’t often take their parent’s advice and may ignore direction when away. Like adults found to be congregating in a location, officers will likely approach the youths and educate them on the order. Citations and arrest are extremely unlikely, reserved for only the most extreme circumstances.

Can I still go hiking and fishing?

Yes. Oregonians can still recreate outdoors, if their recreational activity involves non-contact with others and they can maintain appropriate social distancing- which is defined as 6 feet or more from others. Oregonians and visitors to our state should be aware most campgrounds and boat ramps are closed, so you should research your plans before recreating.

Should I call 911 if I see people congregating?

No. The level of this violation is not for reporting police, fire or medical emergencies through 911. People may choose to self-educate their fellow Oregonians or if a large gathering is noted, they may call their respective police agency’s non-emergency number.

News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: [email protected] or 541-473-3377. 

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