COVID -19 Response Plan for Progressive Resumption – Circuit Court for Baltimore City

Circuit Court for Baltimore City
COVID-19 Response Plan for the Progressive Resumption of Full Function of Judiciary Operations

August 5, 2020

Introduction 

Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, and consistent with the guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals ordered all courts in the Maryland Judiciary to adhere to restricted, emergency operations and close to the public with limited exceptions beginning March 17, 2020. On May 22, 2020, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals issued an administrative order directing a phased approach to resumption of full judiciary operations to begin June 5, 2020.

 

Phase I: March 16, 2020, through June 5, 2020

Phase I is the state of emergency operations consistent with the Fourth Amended Administrative Order Expanding and Extending Statewide Judiciary Restricted Operations Due to the COVID- 19 Emergency, filed May 4, 2020.

Phase II: 5:00 PM, June 5, 2020, through July 19, 2020

In Phase II, the court will expand the scope of matters to be heard both remotely and on-site, including matters that were postponed or deferred during restricted operations, as well as matters that must be prioritized. The Offices of the Clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City Court will remain closed to the public with limited exceptions. Court activities will proceed with restrictions to limit the concentration of individuals and allow social distancing, consistent with guidance of the CDC or Maryland Department of Health or both.

Phase III: July 20, 2020, through August 30, 2020

In Phase III, the court will hold a broader range of matters, including certain non-jury trials and as well as additional prioritized matters, with limited in-person services. The Offices of the Clerk of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City will be open to the public. Court activities will proceed with continued restrictions to limit the concentration of individuals and allow social distancing, consistent with guidance of the CDC or Maryland Department of Health or both.

Phase IV: August 31, 2020, through October 4, 2020

In Phase IV, the court will resume all non-jury trials and contested hearings in criminal, civil, family, and juvenile matters. There will be no jury trials. There will be continued restrictions to limit the concentration of individuals and allow social distancing, consistent with guidance of the CDC or Maryland Department of Health or both.

Phase V: October 5, 2020

In Phase V, the court will resume full operations, including jury trials. The court will continue restrictions to limit the concentration of individuals and allow social distancing, consistent with

the guidance of the CDC or Maryland Department of Health or both.

 

To prepare for increased court operations at the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Administrative Judge Audrey J.S. Carrión institutes the following COVID-19 Response Plan for the progressive resumption of full function of court operations, observing best practices to protect the safety of court employees and the public, and to enable the phased resumption of all court processes.

It is acknowledged that the COVID-19 virus will be impacting the community and the courts for a substantial period of time and continued adjustments may be required. Accordingly, this plan may be in place for an extended period. The court’s reopening will be a gradual, phased approach.

This plan recognizes the nature of the coronavirus (COVID-19) – that it is spread from person to person, that its symptoms can range from mild (or no symptoms) to severe illness, and that a person can become infected by coming into close contact (about six feet) with a person who has COVID-19. The steps the Circuit Court for Baltimore City is taking align with the CDC and State of Maryland guidelines for social distancing, wearing masks, frequent hand washing and frequent touch point cleaning.1

Procedures established throughout this plan may need to be modified due to such future orders from the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and/or the Governor of the State of Maryland.

Action Plan for Circuit Court Facilities

The Circuit Court for Baltimore City will continue to follow recommendations regarding medical screening, social distancing and wearing of masks. Each item in this plan will be evaluated at each stage of increased operations.

Medical Screening

  1. Screening questions will be administered to everyone who enters the Mitchell Courthouse, 100
  2. Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, the Cummings Courthouse (formerly known as Courthouse East), 111 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, or the Judiciary’s section of the Juvenile Justice Center, 300 North Gay Street Baltimore, MD 21202 (“courthouses”).
  3. The need for thermometer checks will be evaluated at each phase of increased court operations.
  4. If an individual is denied access, they will be provided with a contact list in order to make the appropriate court department aware.

Colored Wrist Band Verifications

  1. All court staff, who submit to and pass the daily required COVID-19 temperature screening, may be issued a colored wrist band by their supervisor to wear for the workday or when work requires traveling between courthouse facilities. Before issuing the wrist band, supervisors must write the current date on the
  2. The colored wrist band will alert the Sheriff’s deputies that the employee’s temperature has been taken upon entering
  3. The wrist band colors will periodically change. The Sheriff’s Office will be notified of the color change by Court

1 “What you should know about COVID-19 to protect yourself and others”, cdc.gov/coronavirus

  1. The colored wrist bands are only valid for the current
  2. Court staff must return the wrist band to their respective supervisor at the end of each workday to be

Social Distancing

  1. To the extent reasonably practicable, uniform social distancing of six feet will be instituted in all areas of the courthouse buildings, including but not limited to, public common areas, elevators, restrooms, conference and meeting rooms, galleries, courtrooms, hearing rooms, and waiting
  2. Floor markings (tape or decals) and signage have been placed in courtrooms, hallways, and elevators to enforce social
  3. No person may ride on an elevator containing other persons, unless all persons are wearing a face mask, scarf, or other device. Here the social distancing guideline of six feet will be relaxed, however, the maximum elevator capacity is set at two people standing on marked locations. When riding in elevators, individuals are strictly prohibited from talking. There will be signage outside of the elevators indicating: NO TALKING IN
  4. The Court has installed plexi-glass barriers in its courtrooms, public service areas, and Clerk’s Office locations. Courthouse tenants who wish to install plexi-glass in their offices should secure contracting services independent of the Court. However, all scheduled work must be coordinated through Court Administration for proper security

Wearing of Masks

  1. On July 31, 2020, Chief Judge Barbera issued Administrative Order Clarifying COVID-19 Health Measure in Courthouses and Judicial Branch Facilities. This Order requires that all persons over the age of two (2) entering the Circuit Court for Baltimore City shall wear a mask or other nose and mouth covering. Barriers such as face shields and plexi glass are not substitutes for face coverings or masks and will not fulfill the masking
  2. Masks or face coverings may be lowered to eat, drink, or take oral or nasal medications, but shall be replaced upon
  3. In proceedings, the presiding judge or magistrate may require any participant, when speaking, to use a disposable paper mask or wear a personal barrier shield in lieu of a mask to ensure that the participant is
  4. Judiciary personnel in single-occupancy enclosed offices may lower their masks while alone with the door closed. However, the mask must be worn if any other person enters the office or the occupant leaves the
  5. Face masks continue to be required in all public areas, including, but not limited to the following: when delivering mail throughout the courthouse; during all court proceedings; and while riding elevators. Judiciary personnel assigned to common area workspaces must wear masks. All Sheriff Deputies shall wear masks at security screening

The Court, to the extent available, will provide single-use masks for anyone who must enter the courthouses and who is not in possession of a mask or other nose and mouth covering.

Employees are encouraged to use personal, washable masks when in the courthouses. If anyone
refuses to wear the appropriate face covering, they may be denied entry into and/or removed from the building. 

Filing of Case Documents

  1. Physical Drop Boxes at Mitchell Courthouse, 100 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21202 will remain
  2. Virtual Box for the Civil and Criminal discovery filings will remain in

Wearing of Gloves

The decision to wear gloves will be left to individuals working throughout the courthouse, and during all court proceedings. Frequent hand washing by employees is essential.

CDC guidelines regarding How to Protect Yourself & Others provides up to date information. 3

All managers and employees should check this page frequently.

Safety Procedures

It is the goal that all employees, as well as other inhabitants of the courthouse, work in a safe environment. Uniform implementation of the following procedures by each organization occupying offices within the courthouses is required.

Staff Safety

All court departments and stakeholders shall continue to work consistent with the phase of reopening. The number of people in the courthouses should be minimized to the extent possible as the court slowly increases its workload. Each organization within the courthouse is encouraged to determine how best to continue teleworking, as appropriate, and to limit the number of employees who can safely practice the six feet social distancing guideline.

Alternatively, each organization is encouraged to use staggered shifts or on/off days to enable social distancing when work environment configuration impedes compliance. Some departments and organizations will be asked to continue working remotely until further notice. Judges and Magistrates will be in chambers with limited rotating staff.

We have asked the leadership from each organization to conduct a workspace survey and immediately begin reconfiguration to ensure six feet of social distance exists between the public and co-workers.

To ensure the safety of employees who directly serve the public, physical barriers have been installed throughout the courthouses. Additionally, hand sanitizer stations have been added at various locations throughout the courthouses.

3 Center for Disease Control, Preventing Getting Sick FAQ, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent- getting-sick/prevention.html

Facilities Modification

The following determinations have been made:

  • Courtrooms: Courtroom seating, not including attorney tables, has been restricted to 8-12 people. Some courtrooms will remain closed to accommodate social distancing. All opened courtrooms have been marked for
  • Magistrate Hearing Rooms are approximately one half the size of a courtroom and therefore are restricted to 2-6
  • Courtroom trial tables: the lawyers will be at opposite ends of the two trial
  • Public common areas: installation of signage and removal of seating has been done as necessary.
  • Elevators: installation of signage has been done along with floor markings indicating where up to two occupants must stand and indicating that there is to be no talking in the

Sanitizing Common Areas

Accelerated cleaning of “high touch” areas by Baltimore City contract cleaning staff will continue. Areas include, but are not limited to, doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, table tops, glass barriers, and light switches. These touchpoints shall be cleaned every day during the nightly cleaning. The Court has requested a day porter to assist with cleaning after hearings and trials.

Courthouse staff shall keep office areas sanitized throughout the day as common devices are used. Supplies will be available to enable staff to self-clean following the use of frequently accessed devices such as copiers, phones, desk tops, kitchen appliances, etc.

The Administrative Office of the Court has installed additional wall mounted hand sanitizer stations throughout the courtrooms and public services offices. Upgrades are being made to the ventilation filters to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 virus through heating and air conditioning systems.

Decontamination

When a COVID-19 exposure has been reported the contaminated location shall be sealed and all access shall be denied. The location will be disinfected with cleaning solutions approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and access will be restricted for a 24-hour period following decontamination.

Handling Positive Cases

If an employee is infected by COVID-19 and has entered the court, upon notification, the organization’s representative shall:

  1. Contact the infected employee and supervisor to retrace the infected employee’s steps and determine who may have been within six feet of contact with the infected employee for more than fifteen minutes (close contact). The supervisor will also track any offices, restrooms, or common areas the infected employee
  2. Notify the Baltimore City Health Department. If the infected employee is a State Judiciary employee, contact Human Resources Department, Employee Relations at AOC as
  1. In coordination with Administrative Judge, Audrey J.S. Carrión, contact by telephone all employees and outside personnel who may have had contact with the infected employee as soon as
  2. Advise the employees who had close contact with the infected employee that they shall self- quarantine for up to 14 days and they must follow any directive from Baltimore City Health Department, Maryland Department of Health, or their healthcare provider. Documentation to be provided, upon request, as consistent with HIPPA and other legal mandates. If the employee subsequently takes a test that indicates negative or has a note from a doctor authorizing return to work, they could return prior to the 14 days
  3. Coordinate with Court Administration who will communicate with Baltimore City regarding the decontamination and cleaning of the courthouses, with specific attention to all areas visited by the infected

Handling Presumptive Cases

When an employee reports possible exposure to COVID-19, the organization shall designate a representative to confidentially determine:

  1. What areas of the workplace the employee visited during the last 24
  2. How long the employee was in contact with the other persons in the workplace: designating the time period by more or less than 5 minutes and obtain a list of persons
  3. How close the employee was to other persons in the workplace: Specifying more than six feet or less than six
  4. Whether the employee coughed or sneezed within six feet of other employees and whether any employees present during this episode were wearing
  5. Whether there were any other circumstances (riding in same vehicle, shared food, etc.) that could result in community exposure

The above information shall be submitted to the Judiciary’s Human Resources Department. If the case turns from presumptive to confirmed, the organization shall:

  1. Notify the Baltimore City Health Department and the Judiciary’s Human Resources Department, Employee
  2. In coordination with each organization’s representative, contact by telephone all employees and outside personnel who may have had contact with the infected employee as soon as
  3. Advise the employees who had contact with the infected employee that they shall self- quarantine for up to 14
  4. Coordinate with Court Administration who will communicate with Baltimore City regarding the decontamination and cleaning of the courthouse with specific attention to all areas visited by the infected employee.

Incoming Mail (including Packages) and Deliveries

It has been reported that paper is a low risk transmitter of the COVID-19 virus. Among findings of a National Institute of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases4 study on “Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1”, SARS-CoV- 2, the virus that causes COVID-19 remained viable in aerosols for 3 hours and, “SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces.” It is important to note that less than 0.1% of the starting virus material remained on plastic and, “on cardboard, no viable SARS- CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours.”

Conclusion

Within public areas of the courthouses, Court Administration will continue to post information on the benefit of frequent handwashing, CDC facts on signs and symptoms, and related procedures. Signage may be increased as necessary. Each organization, stakeholder, or department occupying space within the courthouses should routinely educate employees on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, encourage employees to stay home or work from home if experiencing any signs or symptoms, perform frequent handwashing, wear masks or other nose and mouth covering, keep areas clean and sanitized, social distance, and comply with guidelines in place for movement throughout the courthouses.

Each organization, stakeholder, or department occupying the courthouse should have a plan for its employees, detailing how that office will navigate each phase as the court moves from very restricted, emergency operations to a return to full operations.

Our court and our staff have been performing their daily job functions, holding hearings, and responding to public inquiries in person and remotely. Expansion and improvement occurs daily and is expected to continue. Preparation such as that which has occurred will allow movement between the phases as necessary.

Furthermore, personnel who are medically vulnerable; or are otherwise vulnerable (over 65 with serious underlying health conditions, such as high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, or those whose immune systems are compromised, such as by chemotherapy for cancer or other conditions requiring such therapy)5 should consult with their supervisors regarding their return to the courthouse. Managers should explore appropriate options. The staff of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City is commended for its preparation, creativity, work ethic and leadership during this challenging time.

 

/s/ Audrey J. S. Carrion
Audrey J.S. Carrión
Administrative Judge

 

4 New England Journal of Medicine on March 17, 2020. (https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973
5 NSCS Considerations in Resuming Court Operations, A Pandemic Resource from NCSC, May 1, 2020, Version #1

 

mitchell MITCHELL COURTHOUSE

100 North Calvert Street Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: (410) 396-5188
Business Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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mitchell CUMMINGS COURTHOUSE

111 N. Calvert Street Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: (410) 396-5188
Business Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER

300 North Gay Street Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: (443) 263-8706
Business Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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