A month after Yakima County Superior Court backed off most of its COVID-19 restrictions, the court is putting some back in place.
People coming to do business with the court, its juvenile division or pretrial services will have to wear face masks, Court Director Jessica Humphreys said. The rule change took effect Aug. 23, at the same time Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate for all people to wear masks in public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status.
Court staff will supply masks for those who come in without one, as well as allow people to appear by videoconferencing software.
The court is not mandating that staff receive a coronavirus vaccine, as the state Supreme Court has ordered for its own staff in Olympia.
“There has been no decision made regarding a vaccination requirement for Superior Court at this time,” Humphreys said.
Inslee ordered a statewide mask mandate effective Aug. 23 due to skyrocketing infection numbers due to the delta variant and a significant number of unvaccinated people. Inslee also mandated that all state employees and health care workers be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
At the Yakima County Courthouse, people in the courtrooms or adjacent hallways, as well as the pretrial services office in the basement or the Juvenile Justice Center are required to wear masks, Humphreys said.
People with business before the court can make arrangements to appear via Zoom. Court staff is also conducting in-custody hearings, such as preliminary appearances, virtually, with jail inmates — and sometimes the attorneys — appearing in a videoconference with the judge sitting on the bench.
The state Supreme Court earlier this month ordered its employees to be fully vaccinated and “strongly urged” lower courts, the Washington State Bar Association, the state Office of Public Defense and Office of Civil Legal Aid to adopt vaccine requirements.
When the pandemic started, the Supreme Court ordered jury trials suspended as part of the governor’s shutdown to slow the virus’ spread. Other hearings, such as preliminary appearances and arraignments were conducted by teleconferencing or following strict rules on social distancing and wearing masks, as well as limiting the number of people in a courtroom to the absolute minimum.
Yakima County resumed jury trials in September 2020, having prospective jurors meet at the Yakima Valley SunDome for selection, while trials were conducted in one of the courthouse’s largest courtrooms with the public gallery converted into a jury box as proceedings were livestreamed on the county website.
Most of the court’s restrictions were lifted as Inslee eased the state’s rules as the disease waned. Jury selection returned to the courthouse and unvaccinated people were urged to wear masks.