November 18, 2020
Public health officials nationwide warn that Thanksgiving dinners will be coronavirus super-spreader events. Assuming that happens, what should court officials do?
That question was posed to three experts as part of NCSC's webinar Resuming Operations: An Update on Public Health Considerations on November 12. The webinar itself can be viewed here and the materials distributed as part of the presentation here.
“People are not going to be able to resist” getting together for Thanksgiving, said Ted Cieslak, executive director for health security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, headquarters for the Global Center for Health Security. “If you can postpone (in-person) court proceedings – if you have that luxury -- it would be worth considering (closing).”
For courts with no or small backlogs, closing “may not be the worst idea,” said Cieslak’s colleague, Rachel E. Lookadoo, director of legal and public health preparedness at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“We’re going to see an increase in cases (after Thanksgiving),” said Jennifer Shuford, infectious disease medical officer at the Texas Department of State Health Services. “We’re in for a really rough ride in November, December and January.”
The webinar was presented by CCJ/COSCA’s Pandemic Rapid Response Team, which has provided dozens of resources for state court officials.
The webinar attendees were asked to participate in a poll to determine how courts are conducting in-person and virtual hearings during this time.
- 19 percent said their courts are expanding in-person proceedings;
- 21 percent said their courts are maintaining in-person proceedings with no restrictions or expansions;
- 36 percent said their courts are maintaining virtual proceedings with no restrictions or expansions; and
- 24 percent said their courts are placing further limitations on in-person proceedings.
Lookadoo referred to 2020 as “the year of cascading events,” not just because of the pandemic but because of widespread civil unrest, wildfires and hurricanes, all of which have impacted court operations to some degree.
She urged court officials to conduct risk assessments with input from local public health officials and emergency management officials, develop continuity of operations plans, encourage employees to get flu shots, prepare for staff shortages, and treat the pandemic as the norm.
What is your court doing to prepare for the next wave of the pandemic? Share your experiences by contacting us at Knowledge@ncsc.org, and follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.
For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.