Broadly, the order, set to remain in place for 30 days, defines essential businesses — health care, food service, law enforcement and utilities, to name a few — along with a list of allowable “essential activities” for the public.

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MIRAMAR BEACH — For Walton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Allen Pullings, Friday was a day for learning — for himself, and for the members of the public he encountered during his shift.

At one minute after midnight on Friday, an executive order from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a “stay-at-home” edict — or, in the order’s parlance, “safer at home” — aimed at limiting the spread of the serious respiratory illness COVID-19 across the state, became effective.

Broadly, the order, set to remain in place for 30 days, defines essential businesses — health care, food service, law enforcement and utilities, to name a few — along with a list of allowable “essential activities” for the public.

Enforcement of the 34-page order is a responsibility of local law enforcement, which as a practical matter means that, in Walton County, it has become a new responsibility for Pullings and his Sheriff’s Office colleagues.

On Friday afternoon, a little more than a dozen hours after the stay-at-home order became effective, Pullings was applying a light hand, educating the public about it even as he was feeling his own way into its enforcement.

In terms of limiting citizens’ needs to be out in public, the order defines a short list of “essential activities” — attending religious services; participating in recreational activities (with appropriate social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19) such as running, walking, biking, hiking, hunting or swimming, taking care of pets or caring for or assisting a loved one or a friend.

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On Friday, what that meant for the section of Scenic Gulf Drive that Pullings was working with three deputies at midafternoon was that people sitting on the boardwalk in the public right of way gazing out at the Gulf of Mexico were being educated on the stay-at-home order, while people out for a jog or a run or to walk their dog were left alone, unless they happened to be in a large group.

“We’re trying to do it with common sense,” Pullings said, adding that, at least in the early going, deputies are approaching the question of what is or isn’t an essential activity with a light touch.

“We don’t judge what’s essential or what’s not,” Pullings said, explaining that he and other deputies are awaiting further guidance on enforcing the order.

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In the meantime, he added, the light touch being applied means that he and his fellow deputies aren’t necessarily looking for potential violations of the stay-at-home order.

“We’re not conducting traffic stops,” he said.

During the first hours under the new order, there wasn’t much in the way of enforcement activity needed, Pullings said.


“We’ve had very little contact” with members of the public, Pullings said as the clock moved toward 3 p.m. while he talked outside his patrol vehicle parked alongside Scenic Gulf Drive. And while that limited contact had resulted in compliance with the order, the story of that compliance was much the same as in other situations, according to Pullings.

“Some comply slower than others,” he deadpanned.

Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, in his Thursday livestreamed interactive social media broadcast “Sheriff Live,” noted that his office was then, in fact, getting familiar with the order.

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“We had a lot of questions, and we’re working our way through that,” he said.

Walton County citizens also had a lot of questions, and went through a litany of inquiries during Thursday’s “Sheriff Live” regarding whether specific categories of businesses – landscaping and real estate, as just a couple of examples — were affected by the governor’s executive order. The sheriff also fielded questions with regard to allowable recreational activities.

But Adkinson also had some larger points to make — noting, for instance, that executive orders limiting movement and activities during emergencies are nothing new. He did, however, concede that there is something different in connection with the coronavirus-related state executive order.

“Here’s what’s new,” he said. “Because you don’t see something burning, because you don’t see a hurricane coming, it doesn’t seem as real an emergency.” It’s also different, Adkinson said, “because you basically feel like you can go out and do your normal business, (so) why should you be restricted?“

And, the sheriff said, the fact that the order will be in effect for 30 days, a longer term than most other emergency declarations, makes the current situation seem significantly different.

But, Adkinson went on to say, “Everybody in this county has been under an order more stringent than this. When? The last time we had a hurricane.” In fact, the sheriff added, those emergency declarations usually are more stringent, because they can involve, among other things, the suspension of the sale of alcohol and other inconveniences.

Under the stay-at-home order, Adkinson reminded the livestream viewers, “you can get out of your house for a lot of stuff. You can go boat, you can go walk. You can ride bikes.”

“What you really are not able to do, Adkinson continued, ”is go socialize in large groups, or go shopping for things that are not essential. That’s really all that was shut down, in a lot of ways.”

But, the order is in place, and Adkinson left no doubt that it will be enforced.

“Are we going to have people who are just going to try to beat it at every step, and say ’This doesn’t apply to me, and I don’t care?’” Adkinson asked rhetorically. “Yeah, we are, and we’re going to have to deal with them. You’re going to make us deal with you, and I’m not going to apologize for it.”

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