Southern, Northern District courts reinstate mask, social distancing mandates

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Just two months after lifting the requirement, the Southern Indiana District Court is once again imposing restrictions mandating all individuals must wear masks and social distance in public spaces in the district’s courthouses, regardless of their vaccination status, Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt announced in a Monday order.

The reinstated requirement comes quickly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health and governmental authorities amped up calls for vaccinations and other precautions to slow to the spread of COVID-19. The calls come in response to variants of the virus currently circulating in the United States, and the recent increase in cases nationally and locally.

“Specifically, on July 27, 2021, the CDC recommended that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear face coverings in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. The Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts has strongly encouraged courts to follow this guidance,” the Southern Indiana District Court’s order states.

A general order issued Monday by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana announced the court’s mask mandate change following a majority vote by the Facility Security Committees for the federal courthouses in the Southern District. The change takes effect Aug. 3.

Chief Judge Jon E. DeGuilio of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana similarly announced Monday that all individuals entering or occupying a Northern District courthouse in counties with a high or substantial transmission rate of COVID-19 as determined by the CDC must wear a face covering or mask in public areas.

Starting Tuesday, anyone coming in or occupying public areas of the four courthouses of the Southern District of Indiana must wear face coverings and maintain six feet of social distancing in all public spaces, regardless of vaccination status.

Monday’s order is a step back from an announcement in May that permitted fully vaccinated individuals from being required to wear a mask inside the courts’ public spaces.

Provisions in the Monday order allow tenant agencies in the courthouses to determine the face covering and social distancing policies in their own spaces. Judges also have the authority to determine those policies in their courtrooms, chambers, and any other spaces in which a court proceeding is being conducted, including at naturalization ceremonies.

The order also says that anyone summoned for jury service and court staff interacting with those individuals, regardless of vaccination status, must also wear face coverings and adhere to social distancing requirements while in rooms and public spaces designated for juror check-in, orientation, and related activities, unless social distancing cannot be accommodated due to operational necessity.

To be worn correctly, the order says face coverings must fully cover the wearer’s nose and mouth.

Visitors seeking entry to a courthouse without a face covering will be offered a disposable mask free of charge at the security screening checkpoint, provided they have a need to and are otherwise permitted to enter the courthouse.

Exceptions will still be made for those who provide documentation stating that they are unable, for medical reasons, to wear a face covering. However, those who refuse to wear a mask will be denied entry to the courthouse.

Individuals who violate the order while inside a public space of a courthouse may be held in contempt of court, cited, and/or expelled from the courthouse.

“Individuals who are unwilling to wear a face covering will be directed to signage with contact information for each agency in the courthouse,” the order states. “Individuals may contact that agency directly to make whatever arrangements are needed to allow that person to complete their business.”

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