July 10, 2020
By: Dwayne Page
Face coverings will be required for all persons having business with the courts and clerk’s offices at the courthouse in DeKalb County and throughout Tennessee starting Monday, July 13 after an order from the state Supreme Court.
In DeKalb County, persons may obtain free masks at the local health department.
The mandate expands a previous declaration of a state of emergency in the state’s court system as a response to the threat of COVID-19.
“Under the terms of this order, the courts of Tennessee remain open, consistent with the Judicial Branch’s obligation to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19,” the order, filed Friday, indicates.
Nearly anyone entering a courthouse or other building where court facilities are located including the public, judges, attorneys, law enforcement officers, and court clerks and their employees will be required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth at all times while inside the building.
Children under 12 and persons with breathing issues due to an underlying health condition or other “bona fide” medical conditions are not required to wear the coverings.
The order encourages judges to work “with local law enforcement and other county officials to ensure that, to the extent possible, courthouses remain accessible to carry out essential constitutional functions and time sensitive proceedings.”
Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins on March 13 declared the initial state of emergency in the courts. That was extended May 26, at which time it was mandated jurors wear face coverings, while easing the suspension of in-person court proceedings.
The new mandate applies to all courts and court clerks’ offices, except administrative courts within the Executive Branch and federal courts and federal court clerks’ offices in the state. It’s ordered in addition to any applicable executive orders issued by the governor and local officials.
Most courtrooms in Tennessee are not located in stand-alone facilities but instead share space in courthouses with a variety of other governmental offices and agencies.
Gov. Bill Lee also granted authority to local governments to declare mask mandates, and some county mayors have moved to require them. Lee’s announcement came July 3 and granted local authority to counties as coronavirus cases spike across Tennessee.
Six counties with locally run health departments — Sullivan, Knox, Hamilton, Davidson, Madison and Shelby — already had authority to issue mask mandates as needed.