Blair slowly restoring court functions

Trials rescheduled for August at the earliest

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County courts will begin restoring some functions Monday while retaining practices aimed at keeping the coronavirus from spreading.

Courthouse offices are moving in that direction, too, county leaders said Tuesday, pending efforts to identify how those offices can be open, while keeping staff and visitors safe.

Starting Friday, the state is easing some pandemic-related restrictions in Blair County, including ones that will permit more businesses to open.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order also is being lifted, starting Friday, though people will be expected to maintain social distancing from others and avoid gatherings of more than 25.

President Judge Elizabeth Doyle told commissioners Tuesday, during their weekly teleconference meeting, that county courts, which include the magisterial district courts, will begin restoring some functions Monday, but the intention is to move slowly.

Since March 20, courts have restricted operations to essential functions, a move that reduced courtroom hearings and led to more use of video and audio communication to reduce the amount of people at the hearings.

“We will still be conducting the majority of our proceedings remotely and still implementing safety measures of social distancing, mask wearing and extra cleaning,” Doyle said.

One practice that will resume, starting Monday, is allowing in-person payments at the cost and fines and domestic relations offices, as long as social distancing is observed.

Jury selection and jury trials, however, remain on hold. The earliest trials would be scheduled is August, based on a tentative schedule that developed Monday.

Since Gov. Tom Wolf announced last week that Blair County would move out of the phase with the most coronavirus-related restrictions, Commissioner Bruce Erb said he has been asked repeatedly if the courthouse is opening Friday.

Erb said he has been responding, “I doubt it.”

And that answer was confirmed by County Administrator/Chief Clerk Nicole Hemminger, who told commissioners during Tuesday’s meeting: “We won’t be in a position to throw the doors open on Friday.”

Commissioners on Tuesday named Hemminger as the county’s COVID-19 safety officer, making her responsible for coordinating reopening efforts with county offices and departments.

Hemminger presented commissioners with safety recommendations available for businesses to consider before reopening to the public. She proposed following an adapted version outlining precautions and specific tasks if someone tests positive for COVID-19.

“We’ve had multiple negative tests so far,” she said in reference to county employees.

As of Tuesday, the state Department of Health showed Blair County with 30 positive and 1,491 negative results from COVID-19 tests.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.


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