During the course of two business days, with a weekend in between, judicial officials in three Southern West Virginia counties have closed or cut services due to COVID-19 outbreaks in their respective facilities.
Judicial and health officials in Boone, Lincoln and Logan counties have limited access to their judicial facilities to reduce in-person interactions in an attempt to prevent further spread of the virus, according to news releases sent out by the West Virginia Supreme Court on Friday and Monday.
On Monday, the state Supreme Court sent out a release saying magistrate and circuit court in Logan County would be closed effective 8:30 a.m. Monday until further notice.
No in-person hearings or trials can take place in circuit court except for emergencies and instances where a party’s health or safety need protected, according to the administrative order signed by Chief Logan Circuit Judge Eric O’Brien.
O’Brien’s order was accompanied by a letter from Logan County Health Director Livia Cabauatan.
“Positive cases of COVID-19 are continuing to increase rapidly in Logan County,” Cabauatan said.
Between March 18 and June 21, there were 21 positive cases in Logan County. Between June 22 and July 30, there were 119 cases, she said in the letter.
At the time she sent the letter to O’Brien on July 31, Cabauatan said there were 140 positive cases of COVID-19 in Logan County, which has a population of 32,019 people, according to 2019 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Three people from Logan County have died from COVID-19, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
On Friday, Chief Circuit Judge Bill Thompson issued an order closing Boone County Magistrate Court until 4 p.m. Aug. 7, after learning an employee with the Boone County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office “recently tested positive” for COVID-19, leading to all other employees in the prosecutor’s office to be tested.
Magistrates remain on-call in Boone County to handle emergencies and other matters at their discretion.
Circuit court hearings in Boone County are being conducted by telephone or video conference until Aug. 7, and the Circuit Clerk’s Office is operating with a reduced workforce, per Thompson’s order.
Boone County Family Court remained open “as they have little likelihood of being exposed to the Prosecutor’s Office.”
Also on Monday, the Supreme Court sent out a news release saying the Lincoln County Commission was closing the Lincoln County Courthouse due to the threat of exposure to COVID-19.
All courts in Lincoln County are closed until further notice, with the exception of judicial emergencies as determined by judges and magistrates there, according to an order also signed by Chief Judge Thompson.
Lincoln and Boone counties comprise West Virginia’s 25th judicial circuit, and Thompson is chief judge for the circuit. Logan is the only county in the state’s 7th judicial circuit. All three counties border one another in Southeastern West Virginia.
Thompson’s order for Lincoln County didn’t indicate if anyone working in the judicial system there had tested positive for COVID-19.
Supreme Court justices put a stop to most court proceedings beginning March 23. Under the court’s previous order, hearings only could take place for certain emergency circumstances defined by the court.
The Supreme Court allowed local courts to resume limited function beginning May 18, giving local judicial officials discretion to determine when and if to close facilities or limit in-person judicial business, depending on the public health circumstances in their counties.