The federal courts are tackling the coronavirus threat, making scheduling changes, encouraging electronic filing, and restricting access to facilities, among other measures.
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Courts Renew Restrictions as Delta Variant Spreads
Posted: July 29, 2021
At least five federal district courts announced this week that they are re-instituting blanket mask mandates or renewing existing Covid-19 restrictions due to concerns over rising case numbers and spread of the delta variant.
The Eastern District of Arkansas and Central District of California both reversed previous orders to require that masks again be worn by everyone regardless of vaccination status in courthouse common areas. The Eastern District of Missouri said it will require masks for everyone at one of its courthouses.
The additional safety measures come after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention again recommended masks be worn in public indoor spaces if in an area of “substantial” or “high” coronavirus transmission. As of July 29, the CDC classified about 67% of U.S. counties as experiencing “high” or “substantial” community transmission of Covid-19.
Possible Covid Exposure Closes Clerk’s Office
Posted: July 22, 2021
The Western District of Arkansas closed its Fort Smith Clerk’s office on July 19-20 for deep cleaning and contact tracing after a possible Covid-19 exposure.
In contrast, the District of Columbia District estimated that it may be able to fully open to the public as early as Sept. 1 if health conditions continue to improve.
Although about half of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, the gap of vaccination rates has widened, leaving some communities vulnerable to outbreaks.
About 40% of the population in Arkansas has been covered by vaccinations, compared to 65% for D.C., according to Bloomberg Covid vaccine tracker.
Courts Move Jurors Closer Together
Posted: July 15, 2021
Jurors will sit closer together in some courts as the judiciary continues to respond to improving health conditions.
The Eastern District of Virginia court is employing a “discretionary distancing policy” for grand juries and jury trials, giving judges the ability to have jurors sit a minimum of three feet apart.
The change, the court said, is a distancing measure being used already in schools and will give “judges the flexibility needed to foster the improve efficiency of” the court.
The Southern District of Indiana will also no longer require jurors to social distance. That change follows the court’s decision in May to stop requiring masks and social distancing at the court for everyone except for jurors.
In other courts, jury trial and grand jury activities are returning to in-person formats. The Western District of New York will no longer accept grand jury returns by video. It renewed all other still existing Covid policies, including CARES Act renewal of remote hearings.
Chicago Courthouse Opens Vaccine Clinic in its Lobby
Posted: July 1, 2021
Chicago’s Dirksen Federal Courthouse will operate a walk-in vaccine clinic in its lobby as it hopes to raise vaccination rates in the region.
The clinic will distribute the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Northern District of Illinois and Illinois Department of Public Health are sponsoring the program.
“Each day hundreds of members of the public travel to the courthouse for jury duty, to attend naturalization ceremonies, or to conduct business at the courthouse,” Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said in a statement. “We invite them to take a few extra minutes during their visit to get vaccinated.”
As vaccination efforts continue, additional federal courts eased masking and social distancing requirements for fully vaccinated individuals. Courts no longer requiring masks for fully vaccinated visitors include: the Northern District of Indiana, the Western District of Washington, the District of Maine, and the Northern District of California.
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