ASHEBORO — Randolph County Sheriff Greg Seabolt announced Wednesday his plans to increase patrols to enforce the governor’s orders and protect the community from “potential civil unrest.”

In a news release, Seabolt urged all affected businesses to comply with the state’s latest guidelines and urged citizens to take matters seriously and stay at home to preserve medical resources and minimize spread of the new coronavirus.

“It is our responsibility as a community to protect our most vulnerable citizens from this virus,” his statement said, in part. “There have already been three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Randolph County, which is three too many.”

Seabolt said his decision to increase manpower for patrol in the county is a precautionary one, should the state shut down.

“We just prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” Seabolt said. “We don’t know if the governor is going to shut down everything, and if that happens, the whole state would be in a panic and there could be some looting, protests or whatever. We’re just preparing for the worst.”

Seabolt said unrest could stem from increased economic pressures on people who were laid off because of the pandemic and are struggling to provide for their families.

“Our main objective is to protect lives and to help these people if we have the opportunity to do so,” the sheriff said.

Catherine Marcum, an associate professor of criminal justice at Appalachian State University in Boone, said Seabolt’s message to his community is an example of being proactive rather than reactive.

“This is a time of great unknown, and that is very scary for many people,” Marcum said. “They are losing their jobs, many are now responsible for homeschooling while balancing employment and child care, amongst many other stressors.”

Marcum said unrest and the unknown can cause stress-fueled reactions, flared tempers and irrational outbursts.

“We have seen rioting and violent reactions in the past during periods of unrest,” she said. “Of course, no one wants it to be amplified to that level and the hope is we can all maneuver this period as a unified front.”

Phillip Ardoin, a professor of American politics and chairman of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State, said several governors have already implemented significant restrictions within their states and there have not been any serious problems with looting or mass protests.

“Most citizens and government leaders recognize we are facing a serious health crisis and we must do whatever is necessary to reduce the spread of the coronavirus,” Ardoin said.

-- John Hinton and Lee Sanderlin of the Winston-Salem Journal contributed to this report.

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