Fully vaccinated participants in U.S. District Court proceedings in Maryland will be allowed to remove their masks at the presiding judge’s discretion beginning Tuesday, the federal court’s chief judge said, citing sharp reductions in the number of COVID-19 cases and increases in vaccinations.
A person is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or the single-dose vaccine, James K. Bredar wrote in his order issued Wednesday.
Jurors, however, will still be required to keep their masks on, Bredar added. Spectators and reporters will remain barred from the courtroom during jury trials but can watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television in a separate room.
The number of spectators in nonjury proceedings will be capped at 16.
Mediations and settlement conferences can be held virtually or in person at the magistrate judge’s discretion, Bredar said.
“The local virus data, vaccination rates, and other relevant criteria have sufficiently improved such that the court may begin to relax some of its pandemic mitigative safety measures,” Bredar wrote.
“However, the court is not yet prepared to announce progression into Phase Four of its recovery plan (which would be full resumption), and it is not ready to return to its pre-pandemic operating status,” Bredar added. “Rather the court will modify its Phase Three restrictions to reflect improving virus metrics and vaccination rates, the lifting of state and local restrictions on businesses, and updated guidance from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).”
Everyone entering the courthouses in Baltimore and Greenbelt must still wear a mask, but temperature checks will no longer be required.
Bredar added his permission will be required for courthouse entry of anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the prior 14 days or has COVID-19 like symptoms, including fever, chills, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, vomiting or diarrhea “unless the symptoms are confidently attributed to another known condition.”
Bredar’s order followed an earlier directive that led to the resumption of jury trials in mid-March.
“In recent weeks, these (COVID-19) metrics have further improved, and dramatically so: Vaccination rates have risen both statewide and in the local jurisdictions surrounding the courthouses in this district, and the statewide seven-day test positivity rate is now below 2%,” Bredar wrote. “Moreover, the average number of new cases, overall hospitalizations, and reported deaths have demonstrated a clear and sustained downward trend.”
At the state court level, Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said this week that fully vaccinated people may enter courthouses without face coverings beginning Tuesday unless the local administrative judge or state court administrator determines certain settings require that masks be worn.
“More and more Maryland residents have responded to the call to be vaccinated, and COVID-19 infection rates have dropped steadily throughout Maryland,” Barbera said in a statement Tuesday. “We will continue to monitor the state and local jurisdictions closely and respond as necessary to protect, as much as possible, the health and safety of all who use the courts and their services, as well as the Judiciary personnel who serve them.”