Jury trials delayed further as new face covering requirement implemented

Published 4:15 pm Thursday, July 16, 2020

RALEIGH (AP) — Jury trials in North Carolina courtrooms will be delayed for at least another two months because of the new coronavirus, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced on Thursday while also instituting a face covering requirement in court buildings.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s face-mask mandate in public spaces started three weeks ago but didn’t apply to the judicial branch. Beasley said it’s become increasingly clear that face coverings reduce the spread of COVID-19, and that threat of transmission is significant.

She said dozens of court employees have contracted the virus since more in-person court proceedings resumed in June, and courts in five counties last week had to close due to known exposures.

“The truth is, we cannot entirely eliminate the risk of infection,” Beasley said at the media briefing to announce her latest emergency directives. The mask requirement will apply to common areas in courthouses and buildings. Beasley said people who can’t afford face coverings will be provided one when entering a building.

She plans to extend her jury trial suspension begun in March through the end of September. Meanwhile, she said, judicial and law enforcement leaders in each county need to come up with a jury trial resumption plan by Sept. 1 that describes how social distancing will occur, with jurors, attorneys and legal parties being screened daily.

“The data we have available indicates that it is not yet safe to resume jury trials without robust and comprehensive safety plans in place,” Beasley said. Only four states had resumed jury trials as of this month, according to Beasley.

The state Department of Health and Human Services added 2,160 additional positive COVID-19 cases to the state’s tally as of Thursday morning, bringing the total to date to over 93,400. More than 1,130 coronavirus patients are hospitalized and the death total during the pandemic is approaching 1,600. according to DHHS.
The health department also announced on Thursday new online tools to help the Spanish-speaking population in North Carolina determine whether they should get tested or monitor their symptoms.

While Latino and Hispanic residents are 9% of the state’s population, they represent 44% of positive cases where a patient’s ethnicity is known, according to DHHS. Many such residents work in essential, higher-risk industries where social distancing is difficult, the department said.