During coronavirus pandemic, can you be arrested for violating social distancing orders?

Simply put, yes. But people are typically more likely to receive fines, summonses rather than ending up in handcuffs

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Social distancing has become a part of everyday life as the public adjusts to best practices for getting through the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The practice of standing at least six feet from others to prevent the transmission of the virus has been regularly recommended by officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House as the nation learns more about its devastating effects.

And officials from governments in most parts of the United States, have asked the public to do so to curb the spread and, in turn, flatten the curve.

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Couple eats lunch at Falcone's Pizzeria on May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City, as restaurants are allowed to open for in-person dining. Tables are taped off to promote social distancing. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

But can someone be arrested for failing to follow social distancing guidelines?

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Simply put, yes. But people are typically more likely to receive fines or summonses rather than ending up in actual handcuffs.

The New York Police Departmen, which is the largest police force in the country, announced in the beginning of May that the city had issued 374 summonses between March 16 and May 5 “for acts likely to spread disease and to violate emergency measures.”

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According to the department:

  • 163 of the summonses issued citywide stemmed from 17 “social gathering incidents”
  • 206 summonses were issued in Brooklyn, including 121 that stemmed from 12 “social gatherings”
  • 99 summonses were issued in the Bronx, including 42 that stemmed from five gatherings

And at the end of March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the NYPD would be issuing fines of up to $500 for failure to do practice social distancing.

A sign reminding people about "social distancing" in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak stands next to a roadway in North Vancouver, Canada, in March 2020. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

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But police did not only issue summonses or fines.

The department's officers arrested 40 people for failure to practice social distancing in Brooklyn, according to a New York Times report that highlighted the racial disparity in the arrests 35 of the 40 people arrested were reportedly African American.

De Blasio acknowledged in a related tweet that the NYPD is using arrests and summonses as a way of “saving lives” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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And in Maryland, nearly three dozen people had been arrested by mid-April for allegedly failing to follow social distancing orders, according to Fox 5 DC.

Similar reports have cropped up throughout the country.

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