N Carolina courts setting 30-day pauses on most proceedings

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s courts are delaying criminal and civil proceedings to limit courthouse visits amid other statewide recommendations so to blunt the intensity of coronavirus, the state’s top judicial official announced Friday.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley directed most Superior Court and District Court cases to be pushed back for at least 30 days starting Monday, with some exceptions. Trials and grand juries with jurors already seated will continue as scheduled. Bond and probable cause hearings will still be held, domestic violence protection proceedings won’t stop and magistrates will continue to be in place at courthouses across the state to issue warrants, state court leaders said.

The announcement comes a day after Gov. Roy Cooper strongly discouraged gatherings of more than 100 people, leading to likely cancellations, postponements and modifications of thousands of events. At least 15 North Carolina residents have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday morning, and the number is expected to grow, in part as the number of available testing materials increase.

Beasley said the delays will affect thousands of court cases and likely will lead to backlogs in the months ahead. But she said the pause is needed so the judicial branch can do its part to curb the virus spread.

“This will allow us to drastically reduce the exposure caused by crowded sessions of court, which often bring hundreds of people at a time into our courthouse,” the chief justice said at a news conference. Courts will continue to remain open to the general public, she said, but people shouldn’t come unless they absolutely need to be there. Notices getting posted on courthouse doors ask people likely exposed to COVID-19 not to come inside.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover

All 17 University of North Carolina system schools and many private colleges have told students to stay off campus for awhile and prepare to learn without face-to-face classes later this month. Some large places of worship also have said they will be holding online services this weekend. A few K-12 school districts in the Triangle, where a majority of residents with the current positive cases live, are reworking schedules to keep students at home longer and shift to online learning until early April.

The state’s newest health guidance also urged private businesses and other employers to allow people to work from home. But some of the 7,000 judicial branch employees have to remain on site so legal matters can be conducted.

Beasley’s order, which could be extended, also allows for cases to keep going during the 30-day window when chief judges in a county or region determine they “can be conducted under conditions that protect the health and safety of all participants.” That may include District Court judges presiding over nonjury trials with low attendance, said McKinley Wooten, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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