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Boosters at Ninth Circuit, Courts Respond to Omicron (1)

Dec. 22, 2021, 10:03 PMUpdated: Dec. 22, 2021, 10:47 PM

Staff and attorneys appearing in-person in the nation’s largest federal appeals court will have to get their booster “as soon as eligible” to be considered fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit updated its definition of “fully vaccinated” Dec. 21 to include a booster shot two months after receiving a Johnson & Johnson vaccine or six months after completing the two-dose regimen of the Pfizer or Moderna shots. The San Francisco-based circuit already required staff and attorneys appearing in-person to be fully vaccinated.

The new order comes against the backdrop of increasing Covid-19 cases resulting from the rise of the more transmissible omicron variant. The climbing rate of infections is beginning to lead to additional precautions at some federal courts.

The Federal Circuit intensified its requirements for people appearing in-person, announcing Wednesday it would require a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test for all people entering the courthouse regardless of vaccination status. That test also must be taken after any commercial travel to Washington, where the courthouse is located, the court said.

The District of Rhode Island closed its Clerk’s Office on Dec. 20 due to increasing cases. And the District of Maryland reduced in-person operations, including postponing jury and grand jury selection, as a precaution.

“The high rate of vaccination in the community has been a contributing factor to the Court’s ability to operate fairly normally during recent months, but the introduction of the Omicron variant and the prevalence of vaccination breakthrough cases is an impediment to recovery,” District of Maryland Chief Judge James Bredar, said in a Dec. 22 order.

The District of New Hampshire said it hosted a town hall meeting for members of the federal bar on Dec. 22 detailing how to mitigate possible infection during the holidays and the potential impact of the omicron variant. The town hall was led by the Covid-19 expert who has advised the court during the pandemic.

Increased Covid-19 precautions also appeared in the high-profile sex-trafficking trial of Ghislaine Maxwell. Judge Alison Nathan, who is presiding over the trial in the Southern District of New York, informed jurors Wednesday that the court will require KN-95 masks when they return the following week.

The Eastern District of Arkansas said in its most recent order that indicators of the current state of the pandemic “are mixed.” Despite breakthrough infections and the rise of the omicron variant, the district’s judges agreed that “the best response in the still-fluid circumstances is (with marginal changes) to continue the effective drill we’ve followed since late last summer.”

—With assistance from Perry Cooper (Bloomberg Law) and Patricia Hurtado (Bloomberg News)

(Updates with mask requirement in Maxwell trial in the eighth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com