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Jury trials in Delaware to resume Monday, as courts move to next phase of reopening

Brandon Holveck
Delaware News Journal

Jury trials in Delaware will resume Monday, as the state's courts move to the next phase of their reopening plan.

The number of people allowed in court facilities will increase to up to 75% of capacity. The number of court staffers and the number of people allowed in courtrooms will also increase.

Courts will continue conducting temperature checks at entrances as a COVID-19 screening measure. Masks are mandatory inside court facilities, and social distancing signs and markers are present throughout.

Courthouses statewide were closed to the public on March 23, a day before Gov. John Carney's stay-at-home order went into effect. Almost three months later, the courts entered the first phase of their four-phased reopening plan, allowing attorneys and a limited number of others inside as part of a "soft opening."

The Leonard L. Williams Justice Center in Wilmington, formerly the New Castle County Courthouse.

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Soon after, the courts moved to phase two, welcoming back the public for hearings and non-jury trials. From mid-June until now, buildings were capped at half their normal capacity and no more than 10 visitors were allowed in courtrooms.

Although the state Supreme Court held in-person arguments, court employees were encouraged to work remotely when possible through audio and video conferencing.

There is no timetable for moving from one phase to the next. The decision is made by Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins Seitz Jr. in consultation with the state's reopening decisions and Dr. Alfred Bacon, an infectious disease expert from ChristianaCare.

When the courts move from phase three to phase four, operations will return in full to a "new normal," that will likely involve social distancing and other safety procedures, and an increased use of technology, according to the court's reopening plan.

Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr. listens to oral arguments in the case of D. Powell vs. State at the Delaware Supreme Court in Dover in December 2016.

"The pandemic has forced the courts to rethink how they have done business for decades and it is important that those lessons not be thrown aside now that some normality has returned," the plan reads.

Seitz can revert to previous phases should he deem it necessary for public health reasons.

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Over the past several weeks, COVID-19 cases have been climbing in Delaware, a spike Carney and public health officials have attributed to gatherings among young people on college campuses and at bars and restaurants. There have also been recent outbreaks in at least three Delaware long-term care facilities.

More than 150 people in Delaware have been diagnosed with coronavirus each of the last four days. The percentage of people testing positive — 8.1% as of Saturday — is the highest it's been since July 12.

As of Saturday, 21,243 people in Delaware have tested positive for COVID-19 and 645 have died from complications with the virus.

Contact Brandon Holveck at bholveck@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @holveck_brandon.