NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Supreme Court issued an order Friday, saying that all Tennessee courts will remain open amid COVID-19 concerns but all in-person judicial proceedings will be suspended until March 31.
Chief Justice Jeff Bivins declared a state of emergency for the judicial branch, which follows Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order and declaration of a state of emergency on Thursday. This applies to state and local Tennessee courts, including appellate, trial, general sessions, juvenile, and municipal courts.
“We are reducing the number of people physically in the courthouse each day while ensuring judges and court clerks have the ability to continue with their constitutionally required duties,” said Chief Justice Bivins.
The order includes several other provisions to help alleviate problems caused by suspending non-essential, in-person proceedings.
For example, deadlines set forth in court rules, statutes, and administrative rules, including statutes of limitations, that are set to expire between March 13 and April 6 are extended through April 6 and orders of protection that would expire between March 13 and April 6 are extended until April 6.
“This is new territory for everyone,” Chief Bivins said. “We encourage judges, court clerks, attorneys, law enforcement, and others to work together to develop creative solutions that work for their individual jurisdictions. The goal is to limit the number of people coming into court each day while continuing to meet our duty and administer justice. We may amend this Order as the situation evolves, and we understand more about the obstacles judges and court staff are facing.”
The order does not prohibit court proceedings by phone, video, teleconferencing, email, or other methods that do not involve in-person contact.
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What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.
What are the symptoms?
The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Or at least two of the following symptoms:
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.
The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.