Jury trials in Delaware paused, as courts go back to previous phase of reopening
Delaware courts are suspending jury trials and reverting to the previous phase of their reopening plan in response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
In a statement issued Monday, Chief Justice Collins Seitz Jr. said the decision was based off advice from Dr. Alfred Bacon, an infectious disease specialist from ChristianaCare who has been guiding the courts through the pandemic.
"There has been a concerning rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Delaware, putting a strain on the state's healthcare system," Seitz said in the statement. "We believe it is prudent at this time to pause our reopening plans until the situation stabilizes."
The Delaware courts moved to the third phase of their four-phased reopening plan on Oct. 5, allowing jury trials to resume and increasing the number of people admitted to court facilities.
By moving the courts back to the second phase, Seitz is reducing building capacity from 75% to 50% and limiting courtroom visitors to no more than 10 people. Proceedings involving non-incarcerated individuals, including non-jury civil and criminal trials, can continue and the courts will be available to handle "emergency matters."
"Based on the advice we are receiving, and what other state courts are doing, we think stepping back to Phase Two is the safest course of action until after the holiday season," Seitz said.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SURGE: 6 pressing questions you need answered as COVID-19 cases surge in Delaware
Delaware reported 395 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing its seven-day average to an all-time high of 326.6 cases per day. The state has set a new record for its seven-day average of new cases in 11 of the last 12 days.
Cooler winter temperatures are expected to exacerbate the spread of the virus, an effect that could be compounded by people spending more time inside than in the summer months when cases dropped.
Delaware has yet to implement any new restrictions to everyday life, as neighboring states, including New York and New Jersey, have started limiting social gatherings and the operating hours of restaurants.
State officials say they are considering restrictions to target behaviors they believe are driving the spread, which include private social gatherings and dining inside at restaurants.
COVID TRACKER: The latest numbers, charts and graphs for Delaware
Other Delaware agencies have started to take precautionary measures. Last week, the Department of Correction halted in-person visitation at its correctional facilities because of the rising case counts. On Monday, the agency announced 18 inmates tested positive in the state's largest prison, James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna.
The Delaware courts entered phase two on June 15 after spending several months closed to the public. According to the courts' reopening plan, the jump from phase three to phase four will represent a "new normal," that will likely involve social distancing and an increased use of technology.
The Monday press release noted the courts will conduct business through video and audio conferencing and employees will work remotely whenever possible.