Contact tracing is expanding in courthouses in Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties as COVID-19 rates surge.
As of Aug. 1, masks are “highly encouraged” in courthouses in the 12th Judicial Circuit as sub-variants of the omicron strain of the coronavirus drive the latest spike in cases, Chief Judge Charles Roberts ordered on July 29.
“For the past several months, each county within our circuit has experienced COVID-19 positivity rates between 10-20%, and the health, safety, and well-being of courthouse visitors, jurors, court employees, and judicial officers are still a high priority,” Roberts stated in the administrative order.
Manatee is still at a high transmission level, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with a 24% positivity rate and 10% increase in cases in the past seven days.
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, contact tracing efforts were also expanded.
Anyone who was in any of the courthouses in the three counties who tests positive for COVID-19 or develops symptoms within the following 24 hours is now asked to notify court administration’s human resource office at 941-749-3600, ext. 1791 or HR@jud12.flcourts.org.
When reporting a COVID-19 positive case, members of the public will be asked to provide the exact locations they were at, including the building, floor and courtroom, identifying information about anyone within 6 feet for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes including lawyers, interpreters, jurors and bailiffs.
“To limit the transmission of COVID-19 among court staff, the court has had a very stringent COVID-19 policy for judges and court employees, including required contact tracing, self-isolation and quarantine protocols.”
Protocols already require all judges and courthouse employees who test positive for COVID-19, or were directly exposed to someone’s who has tested positive, to get a negative COVID-19 test before returning work.
Although the court cannot enforce testing requirements for the public, Roberts’ order prohibits anyone who tested positive for COVID-19, regardless of whether they have symptoms, to enter any a court facility.
Stay home if you are sick, court says
Anyone who is sick or experiencing any of the following symptoms should not enter the courthouse:
Shortness of breath
Vomiting or diarrhea
New loss of taste of smell
To reschedule a court date
Anyone who needs to reschedule a court date because of COVID-19 is asked to contact administration or the clerk of court of the county:
Manatee County Court Administration: 941-749-3655
Manatee County Clerk of Court: 941-749-1800
Sarasota County Court Administration: 941-861-7800
Sarasota County Clerk of Court: 941-861-7400
DeSoto County Court Administration: 863-993-4644
DeSoto County Clerk of Court: 863-993-4876