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COVID-19 case in local courts axes docket last week

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PRINCE GEORGE – Dockets in all levels of Prince George County courts were axed last week after a county courthouse employee tested positive for novel coronavirus, the first positive case among a member of the county’s workforce.

In an order issued by Sixth Judicial District Judge Edward Tomko, III, dockets in Prince George County General District, Circuit, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts were suspended from May 28 until June 4 after a positive case of COVID-19 “amongst Courthouse personnel and potential exposure to numerous others.”

As of last Thursday, the date of Tomko’s directive expiring, Prince George County had over 130 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported based on numbers from the Virginia Department of Health. Of those cases, eight people were hospitalized. Across Virginia, nearly 47,000 people have been diagnosed with the illness.

During the courts docket's pause, the courthouse remained open for business with emergency cases being heard, but it was advised those hearings should be held in neighboring communities.

According to the order, once business resumed last week, “all members of the department which the positive screen was detected shall wear N95 masks while in common areas of the Courthouse and while dealing with any member of the public.” It further adds “anyone who works in the Courthouse who is a member of an at-risk group as defined by the Centers for Disease Control,” such as older adults and people of any age who have severe underlying medical conditions, “shall be provided a N95 mask by the Sheriff.”

The directive is in line with the Supreme Court of Virginia’s order released on June 1, requiring masks to be worn inside courts buildings.

“In order to further minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in addition to recommended social and physical distancing, all persons aged 10 or over entering the courthouse must wear a face covering that covers the nose and mouth,” the order detailed. “This includes judges, attorneys, deputy sheriffs, court reporters, employees, members of the public, contractors, and all others who work in or visit the courthouse. Within a courtroom, the presiding judge may authorize removal of a face mask to facilitate a proceeding.”

Those who do not wear a face covering will not be permitted inside. Exceptions will be made for “those who cannot safely wear a face mask because of a health-related condition,” the supreme court’s order stated.

That order aligned with Governor Ralph Northam’s executive action the same day that required masks or face coverings when visiting public indoor locations.

Last week, Tomko’s letter also placed a ban on transporting inmates from Riverside Regional Jail, citing an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 at the jail.

In a post on their website, the jail, as of last week, 42 inmates and five staff members currently have COVID-19. In total, 46 inmates and 11 Riverside Regional Jail employees have tested positive for the illness.

Just before Memorial Day, the jail held a mass COVID-19 testing event in coordination with Crater Health District and the Virginia National Guard, with 140 inmates, 22 jail staff, and 20 medical officials being tested. On May 27, the results found 35 inmates and one jail employee has tested positive for the illness.

Little information has been shared from the Federal government regarding any potential cases of COVID-19 at the Federal Correctional Complex, Petersburg Low and Petersburg Medium.

Typically, VDH locality-level data includes positive cases within jail and prison facilitates located in those communities.