The surge in the COVID-19 delta variant is leading Franklin County courts to reinstate pandemic safety protocols, including a mandate requiring masks to be worn in the courtroom.
The change followed a new directive issued last week by the Supreme Court of Missouri, Presiding Circuit Court Judge Ike Lamke said. It requires judicial districts to go back to following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines stating that people should wear a mask indoors in areas of “substantial or high transmission,” a standard met by all 114 Missouri counties.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had this recent surge, and there’s a large number of people in Franklin County, as throughout the state, who are not vaccinated,” Lamke said.
The order reduces the number of people allowed in the courtroom and brings back the mask mandate in public areas. The judge has the discretion to change the mask mandate in courtrooms.
The courts previously rescinded the COVID-19 protocols in May.
Jury trials, which only recently were allowed to resume in Franklin County, will be able to go forward with restrictions.
“The judge has leeway to moderate the requirements for the jury trial, such as social distancing and/or masks, depending on the circumstances,” he said. “There’s basically some flexibility with regard to masks and what type of social distancing is going to be imposed.”
Lamke doesn’t expect to see a need for jury selection to be held in larger facilities to allow for social distancing.
“The big game-changer is the vaccine, and there are a fair number of people who have been vaccinated,” he said.
With jury trials scheduled later this month, Lamke said judges are being given the ability to institute more restrictive requirements or lessen the requirements based on the situation.
The order also limits access to the courtroom to attorneys, court personnel and members of the public involved with a case or applying for a protective order or attorney in a juvenile manner unless otherwise permitted by a judge.
Courts are required to have signs prohibiting access to people who have been exposed to or are showing symptoms of COVID-19. People entering courts will be subject to screening questions and temperature checks. The directive also requests that court proceedings be held on video when possible.
Everyone at the courthouse does a good job adapting to the changes, Lamke said.
“We’re very fortunate that our bailiffs work with us,” he said. “They’re very well mannered in addressing situations that arise here in the courthouse.”