NORTH FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Two isolated COVID cases forced officials in Alpharetta and Roswell to close municipal courts the week of Dec. 14. The closures occurred because a single employee at each site tested positive for COVID-19.
The closures, which occurred in the last week both courts would have been in session before recessing for the holidays, affected hundreds of people scheduled for hearings. Neither employee who tested positive had any contact with the public through their work at the courthouses, and the 13 other employees who may have interacted with them have been contact-traced.
The hearings are being rescheduled to late January or early February. The courts have notified or will notify all who have been affected.
The closures were not linked, according to Roswell Community Relations Manager Julie Brechbill.
Before the COVID-19 case among its staff, the Alpharetta Municipal Court was set to hold sessions through Dec. 17. According to Director of Alpharetta Municipal Court Services Brooke Lappin, the court had two sessions each scheduled from Dec. 15 through Dec. 17 — arraignments on Dec. 15 and Dec. 16 and trials on Dec. 17.
The court was notified of the COVID exposure on Dec. 11, then immediately decided to cancel court for the following week. The court is still open for phone and online services.
“We are a small court and are staffed to run very efficiently with a few number of staff,” Lappin said. “Due to the design of the work area, all of the clerks work in one open area. This helps with communication but does not make it very easy to keep the employees separated.”
Three clerks exposed to that employee were contact traced and are quarantining at home for 14 days or until receiving a negative COVID test result. The employee who tested positive can return to work at the courthouse 10 days after she tested positive if she no longer has symptoms, Lappin said.
A total of approximately 140 people over the three remaining days of court sessions were affected by the closure.
Lappin said Alpharetta court was able to contact most defendants on Dec. 11 to make plans for rescheduling. The court will also mail notices to all who were scheduled to appear.
Operations at the Alpharetta Municipal Court will continue as planned once the four employees return to work. This year, the court has reduced the number of cases set for each session, and some defendants can choose not to appear in person. Further, the courthouse has barriers to areas where staff would interact with the public, in addition to rules that everyone who enters the courtroom wears a mask and adheres to social distancing.
In Roswell, seven sessions would have taken place the week of the closure: four trials and three arraignments. Between 85 and 100 people are affected by Roswell Municipal Court’s closure, Brechbill said.
While in the courtroom, the Roswell employee did not interact with members of the public in ways that “meet the most recent CDC contact tracing guidelines,” according to a city statement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines recommend contact tracing for anyone within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over 24 hours. Ten other employees were potentially exposed and either have been or will be tested, Brechbill said.
The court plans to reopen as scheduled on Jan. 6, and Brechbill said the court has no plans to change its COVID-19 protocols.
“Our in-person hearings have been very well managed and very smooth since we reopened in June in a modified capacity,” Brechbill said. “Our procedures have worked extremely well and we are blessed with a super communicative staff that really care about each other and the community.”