FAYETTEVILLE — The Fayette County Courthouse will be more accessible to the public beginning Monday, May 18.

Like other governmental buildings, churches, non-essential businesses and other physical structures, the courthouse was closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the exception of emergency situations, the public has been asked to take care of county-related matters through means other than in person.

The Fayette County Commission on May 14 released plans to reopen the courthouse, with restrictions such as social distancing and other proper safety protocol still being observed.

Also, Chief Circuit Judge Paul M. Blake Jr. has issued an administrative order outlining protocol for court proceedings.

Starting Monday, visitors to the courthouse and the adjacent annex building will be able to enter and depart those respective sites via one door in each scenario, provided they meet established benchmarks. For the main courthouse, the door will be located at the back of the building by the handicap ramp. In the case of the courthouse annex, the entrance and exit will be the magistrate court access point on the second floor.

Everyone must wear a form of face covering (mask, bandana, scarf, etc.). People are urged to continue to follow CDC guidelines for social distance, as well as practice good hygiene.

Individuals will be asked a variety of questions prior to entry. That will include whether they have a fever (100.4 degrees or higher). There will also be questions about coughs, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle aches, etc. that can't be attributed to another health condition.

Those who answer no to all of the screening questions can be permitted inside and should be reminded to practice infection control strategies, including covering the face, social distancing, washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or utilizing hand sanitizer of at least 60 percent alcohol, and covering coughs and sneezes with an elbow.

People who answer yes to any of the queries should be denied entry and will be advised to seek medical direction from their primary care physician.

County commissioners have told elected officials and department heads to prepare directions for their respective offices and procedures for the general public if they have to visit the courthouse or the annex to attend to business. They still suggest individuals conduct business via telephone or online if possible. If they have to appear in person, they must call the office in which they need to conduct their visit to expedite matters.

Every person visiting the courthouse to transact business will be given a card when they enter indicating which office they will visit, and they will return that card to a deputy as they exit the premises.

Each elected official will prepare instructions for how many people he or she will allow into their office. Commissioners Denise Scalph, John Brenemen and Tom Louisos said "it is imperative to have a strong written policy to protect the health of all workers." Employees who violate the new policies could face sanctions, including termination.

Workers are told not to come to work sick. They are also asked to take their temperature daily before reporting to work, and to call in and stay home if the temperature is in excess of 100.4 or they exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19. Normal annual and sick leave policies are in place.

When employees can't maintain social distance, they will be required to wear a form of face covering. Also, no congregation of employees in offices or break rooms will be allowed.

Scalph made available a May 11 administrative order issued by Judge Blake, which came on the heels of a May 6 administrative order by the chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Blake's order outlines various protocol, beginning with judicial system employees reporting for work at 8 a.m. on May 18. It features content in various areas, including the fact that all court employees, except the supervising judge and the court reporter, shall wear a mask and attempt to practice social distancing. Also, prior to admittance to circuit, family or magistrate courts, persons seeking admittance shall submit to a temperature check and be masked at all times they are in the courtroom or adjacent areas. Court participants are encouraged to bring their own masks. In addition, they will be expected to practice social distancing and will be provided hand sanitizer.

Admittance of spectators will be administered by the presiding court officer.

Remote hearings and proceedings, either by video or telephone, are still permitted and encouraged if appropriate.

According to a May 6 press release from the Supreme Court of Appeals, local courts are not required to resume in-person proceedings, and have the discretion to proceed as court officers see fit.

Along with the protocols, the Supreme Court also issued an order that establishes new deadlines for filing of matters and pleadings in cases in which filing was stayed during the judicial emergency period.

• • •

Following are department numbers for various Fayette County offices:

• Fayette County Health Department — 304-574-1617

• County commission — 304-574-4290

• Prosecuting attorney — 304-574-4230

• Assessor — 304-574-4242

• County clerk — 304-574-4227

• Floodplain/building permits — 304-574-4320

• County park — 304-574-1111

• Office of emergency management — 304-574-3285

• 911 non-emergency — 304-574-3590

• Sheriff’s department — 304-574-4216

• Tax office — 304-574-4219

• Circuit clerk — 304-574-4213

• Magistrate — 304-574-4279

More information is available at https://fayettecounty.wv.gov/.

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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