Courts in Charlottesville and Albemarle County have loosened mask requirements but still will adhere to various COVID-19 safety measures following a Supreme Court of Virginia order allowing for eased restrictions.
The court’s 24th order extends the COVID-19 emergency declaration for state courts until Aug. 11. This is the first such order to go into effect since Gov. Ralph Northam ended a state of emergency requiring masks and other safety practices.
According to the court order, chief judges and presiding judges of all courts should exercise their discretion in “determining how best to safely operate their respective courts, including how to safely conduct jury trials, and, in doing so, may follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health, with respect to safety protocols, including physical distancing and capacity restrictions and requiring a mask covering the mouth and nose.”
Additionally, courts and security personnel will continue to screen people entering courthouses, and documents can continue to be signed electronically.
Though the state Supreme Court allows courts to loosen their restrictions, the Charlottesville Circuit Court will continue to require social distancing of six feet within the courthouse, according to a July 1 order signed by Judge Richard E. Moore.
However, those who have been fully vaccinated will no longer be required to wear masks within the building, Moore wrote.
“All persons entering the courthouse shall be asked, along with the other required questions, whether they have been vaccinated,” the order reads. “If they have been, they do not need to wear a mask while in the building, but they still must observe social distancing and have their temperature taken, use hand-sanitizer.”
According to Jon Zug, clerk of the Albemarle County Circuit Court, though the Supreme Court of Virginia order does grant flexibility to the courts, Judges Cheryl Higgins and Claude Worrell have not yet let the circuit court staff know if things will change soon.
“I would expect some changes come the beginning of the next term that commences on Monday, Aug. 2,” Zug said.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia similarly loosened COVID-19 precautions in May following a change in emergency orders and vaccination rates. The Charlottesville federal court no longer requires vaccinated people to wear masks or physically distance themselves.
However, the federal court has continued to authorize the use of video and teleconferencing at least through Sept. 18. The decision was supported by the acting U.S. attorney, the federal public defender and a representative for the Criminal Justice Act Panel for the Western District of Virginia.
Following the end of the reauthorization in September, pursuant to the federal CARES Act, the court will review the authorization of authority and determine whether to extend it another 90 days.