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Obey the rules or pay the price

State and local leaders are cracking down on people who violate the rules on social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s about time.

On April 6, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente both announced plans to hold people accountable for their lack of responsibility.

Cuomo noted that the number of positive coronavirus cases and deaths across the state continue to rise, although there are signs that they are beginning to level off. Despite that glimmer of hope, however, the governor said schools and nonessential businesses will remain closed through April 29 because the pandemic still makes it unsafe to resume normal life.

The governor also rightfully decided to play hardball with violators of social distancing rules by doubling down on the punishment — doubling the fine to $1,000.

“Frankly, there has been a laxness on social distancing, especially over this past weekend,” Cuomo said, noting rising numbers of New Yorkers coming out as the weather warmed. “That is just wholly unacceptable.”

He said they run the risk of becoming infected, going to the emergency room and exposing many others by such a lack of responsibility.

“Now is not the time to be lax, and it is a mistake,” he said.

County Executive Picente embraced a similar get-tough attitude, noting that the number of positive cases in Oneida County, too, continues to climb. He ordered all visitors to county buildings to wear face masks or other coverings to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Picente also cited complaints of mass gatherings and businesses that are not following state mandates on social distancing, and said that the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office will be enforcing the guidelines at essential businesses. He said the county already has a list of offending businesses from New Hartford, New York Mills and Trenton.

Picente says the offenders first get a warning; a second notice could result in fines or revocation of health and alcohol permits.

The crackdown is critical. We’d like to think that everyone has the good sense to follow the rules. Most people do, as indicated by the ghost-like downtown and lack of traffic. But there are pockets of irresponsibility, and those people are putting the rest of us at risk.

“There is a real danger in getting overconfident,” Cuomo said. “This is an enemy that we have underestimated from day one, and we have paid the price dearly.”

Those violating the social distancing rules should pay the price dearly, too, via steep fines and/or loss of liquor license. But it needn’t come to that. Just obey the rules and don’t put others at risk.

* Guest editorial from the Observer-Dispatch in Utica, N.Y.

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