After more than two months of largely limited in-person operations, courthouses in both Orange County and Durham County reopened to proceedings on Monday.
The order from state Chief Justice Cheri Beasley delaying or moving online many non-criminal proceedings began in mid-March at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in North Carolina. Since then, courthouses have been working to adapt their systems not just during this delay period, but also in preparation for the inevitable return to in-person action.
The Durham and Orange County Sheriff’s Offices shared releases ahead of the courthouses’ wide reopening to let the public know what to expect upon arrival. Both are requiring any visitors wear cloth face coverings, with limited supplies available for those who don’t have one. Limitations to how many people can be in a courtroom at one time will also be in place and social distancing will be clearly marked on seats and the ground throughout each facility.
Durham County’s courthouses will be screening each visitor prior to entry, according to the sheriff’s office. Officials suggest visitors plan to account for these delays upon arrival and calling the appropriate agency before coming to courthouses to ensure their business can be conducted.
Orange County Sheriff’s Office said the only items visitors may bring into their courthouses are cell phones, car keys and methods of payment. In addition, officials said each courthouse will have a Maximum Social Distancing Occupancy Number posted on the door. People will asked to leave the building on a “last in, first out” basis if that number is exceeded, with others waiting at the entrance able to be notified by text message when the number of people in courtrooms is below the occupancy number.
“We want to assure the public that extensive measures have been taken to provide for their health and safety,” said Mark Kleinschmidt, Orange County Clerk of Superior Court, in a release ahead of the opening.
Beasley’s initial order in March delayed proceedings through mid-April before she extended it to June on April 4.