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Law360, New York (June 30, 2020, 9:08 PM EDT) -- New York state court officials on Tuesday announced that attorneys and other visitors will soon be required to submit to a body temperature check by officers at courthouse doors — if the thermometer reads over 100 degrees, no entry will be permitted.
In a memo, officials said the policy goes into effect July 6 and is intended to curb COVID-19 infections as the judiciary cautiously reopens across the state. In addition to passing a temperature check, the entry test will also include verbal questions about any recent virus symptoms, positive COVID-19 test results, and travel to states or countries with high infection rates — all before standard magnetometer and X-ray screening.
Only after visitors pass the temperature screening and properly answer the questions will they be allowed to enter a New York state courthouse, officials said.
"A uniformed officer shall take the visitor's temperature by infrared thermometer without physical contact to the visitor," the memo notes, detailing the virus symptoms to ask about and noting that travel within the past two weeks to states in the governor's Executive Order 205 — which currently lists 16 states with a 10% weekly average COVID-19 positivity test rate — will also bar entry.
As of Tuesday, that includes travelers returning in the past 14 days from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas or Utah.
"If the visitor's registered temperature is less than 100.0° F., and the visitor answers 'no' to the questions, the visitor shall be permitted to proceed to the magnetometer/x-ray machine," the memo said.
But if the person's temperature is over 100.0° F, the officer will request their name, relevant case information, and the reason for their visit although they "shall not be obligated" to give that information. "The visitor shall then be instructed to leave the court facility immediately," the memo states. Those incidents will be logged and reported at the end of the day.
"Everyone entering the building must be screened," said Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the state courts, acknowledging that the new rule would likely lead to long lines as lawyers, litigants, witnesses, law enforcement officers, prisoners and vendors all wait to have the infrared thermometer pointed at their forehead from 3 centimeters away before beeping with the results.
The $100 digital thermometers were provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for free, Chalfen said.
When asked if sweltering summer temperatures might wrongly keep overheated but otherwise healthy visitors out, Chalfen said the new rule "doesn't preclude common sense" and that officers have the option to tell someone, "Sit down here for five minutes and we'll take it again."
In a footnote, the memo provides for that option "if security conditions in the courthouse allow."
The state courts also announced Thursday that central New York's Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Judicial Districts in the Syracuse, Binghamton and Rochester areas would enter "Phase Four" of reopening in-person operations with up to 80% of staff returning to help manage an increasing number of proceedings.
Under "Phase Three" and continuing into this next phase, the courts are ramping up civil and criminal bench trials, plea and sentencing hearings for "defendants at liberty" as well as long-delayed preliminary hearings for criminal defendants and a selection of other appearances including child custody and small claims.
All state courts outside of New York City will also begin empaneling grand juries on July 13 for the first time since the pandemic shut them down in March, Chalfen told Law360.
New York City could begin "Phase Three" reopening as soon as July 8, Chalfen noted, which would look similar to upstate's return to in-person operations but likely "less than that" in order to control for the risk of crowding and the potential to spread the virus.
Courthouses will continue to require visitors and staff to wear masks, take steps to create physical distance between people and regularly clean the buildings, court officials noted.
--Editing by Michael Watanabe.
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