This story was updated at 4:09 p.m. on Saturday, March 14, 2020, with more information.
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UPDATE: The Tennessee Supreme Court has issued an order that has suspended all in-person proceedings in all state and local courts in Tennessee from the close of business on March 13 through March 31. Chattanooga City Court will remain open but will not hear any cases during this time. All cases set during this time will be rescheduled.
The City Court Clerk's Office will remain open during regular business hours to answer any questions and to accept payments. Any person who has been cited to Court during these two weeks will be notified of a new court date by the Clerk's Office. Payments are strongly encouraged to be made online, when possible, at www.chattanooga.gov, or through the mail to City Court Clerk, 600 Market Street, Room 104, Chattanooga, Tennessee, 37402.
Those with any questions can contact the Clerk's Office at (423) 643-7541.
ORIGINAL STORY: For the next several weeks, some local courts and law enforcement agencies are taking extra precautions in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
There have not been any confirmed cases in Hamilton County, Mayor Jim Coppinger said during a news conference Thursday.link to SGT story when posted Two people, though, are being monitored after having traveled to Italy, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department officials said. So far, they have shown no signs of the illness.
In a news release Thursday afternoon, Hamilton County General Sessions Court announced it will hear only cases involving incarcerated defendants or those that are "otherwise necessary."
The "enhanced health safety measures" are a precautionary measure against COVID-19 and are in line with recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Beginning immediately, we will begin increased disinfecting procedures and social distancing," the release states.
Defendants who are out on bond, including traffic cases, alleged victims and witnesses, will be notified of the new court dates through the General Sessions Criminal Clerk's offices, judges' offices, attorneys or bondsmen.
"It is our hope to be ahead of any issues and to minimize any potential problems that could arise should this affect our community," the news release states.
Criminal court will be implementing similar measures, said Brad Tucker, Hamilton County Criminal Court's chief of staff.
In East Ridge, the city's municipal court is following the same plan, according to a news release. It will hear only custody cases and those "otherwise necessary to be heard" for the following weeks.
Anyone who has a pending case and is out on bond will be notified of a new court date, the news release states. And those who are charged with a traffic infraction should call the clerk's office, at 423-867-2701, for a new date.
Red Bank City Court has also announced it's only hearing custody cases. And Collegedale Municipal Court will be reducing its hearings for the next three weeks. Collegedale holds court only on Wednesdays, so as of now, the affected dates are March 18, March 25 and April 1.
During those three weeks, only defendants who are in custody will be seen, as well as those with whom the court couldn't reschedule.
"It is strongly encouraged that only essential people to cases being heard attend the court sessions," Collegedale court clerk Tonya Sadler said in a statement.
Anyone who has questions about pending court cases should call the Collegedale court clerk's office at 423-468-1891.
AT A GLANCE
Hamilton County General Sessions Court will only be hearing cases involving incarcerated defendants and those "otherwise necessary." For questions, call 423-209-7600.
Hamilton County Criminal Court will be implementing similar measures, though details have not yet been released. For questions, call 423-209-7500.
East Ridge Municipal Court will only be hearing custody cases and those "otherwise necessary." For questions or to reschedule a court date, call 423-867-2701.
Collegedale Municipal Court will only hear cases involving defendants who are in custody, as well as those with whom the court couldn't reschedule. For questions or to reschedule a court date, call 423-468-1891.
Red Bank City Court will only hear custody cases. For questions or to reschedule a court date, call 423-874-0055.
More courts will be added as limited hearings are announced.
At the Hamilton County and Bradley County jails, as well as the Silverdale Detention Facility, all on-site programs and visitation have been suspended in order to limit potential exposure to the inmate population and employees.
In Bradley County, the suspension is for a minimum of two weeks, while Hamilton County and Silverdale did not specify.
Inmates at all three jails will still have access to video and phone communication to stay in touch with family, friends and legal counsel.
"I want the citizens of Bradley County to know that we take the health and safety of everyone under our care, custody and control, as well as all of the employees of the justice center very seriously," Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson said in a statement.
In the event of an outbreak, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Matt Lea said, "We have a protocol established by Erlanger medical staff to address situations like this," but he would not confirm whether the jail is equipped to handle a quarantine should the need arise.
"The [sheriff's office] has plans in place should the coronavirus begin to impact our operational functions we perform as a law enforcement agency and at the Hamilton County Jail," he said. "Due to security reasons, we cannot discuss those plans at this time."
A spokesman for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office did not immediately confirm whether that county had a plan for quarantine.
All three jails have implemented enhanced screenings for new intake inmates, such as asking whether arrestees have recently traveled to any affected areas.
"We continue to encourage hand washing and have provided more-than-normal cleaning supplies for the inmate population," Lea said.
As for law enforcement, the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is taking part in "many discussions currently ongoing in relation to planning and operations for the continuity of law enforcement and public safety services," Chief Deputy Austin Garrett said in a statement.
"I want to assure the public the [sheriff's office] has plans in place should the coronavirus begin to impact our community and the operational functions we perform as a law enforcement agency," he added.
The Chattanooga Police Department also is "monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and working with our local, state, regional, and national partners on preparation, protocols, and response planning," spokeswoman Elisa Myzal said in a statement.
The department canceled a community meeting in its Charlie Sector, which encompasses a large area including Eastgate Town Center, East Brainerd and Highway 58. And it is postponing the start of its Citizens' Police Academy.
As for the officers, they already have equipment to help protect them from exposure to germs, Myzal said, and they are expected to continue taking those precautions "to protect themselves and the people they are serving in our community."
"[The police department] urges everyone, including our officers and professional staff, to continue following the CDC guidelines to protect their health," Myzal said.
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