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Massachusetts courts move closer to pre-pandemic operations

July 1, 2021 GMT

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts courts will move closer to pre-pandemic operations later this month under two updated orders released Thursday by the Supreme Judicial Court.

The first order removes occupancy limits and physical distancing requirements in courthouses, but requires everyone, whether fully vaccinated or not, to continue to wear a face covering.

The second order reopens courthouses for in-person business and trials.

It ends COVID-19-related limitations or restrictions on where and how jury trials are conducted, the SJC said.

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Because courts continue to work through the backlog of trials caused by the pandemic, certain cases that typically would be heard by 12-person juries, such as Superior and Housing Court civil cases, will continue to be heard by six-person juries.

Priority will to be given to trials in cases where a defendant is in custody. Certain proceedings may still be conducted virtually.

Both orders take effect July 12.

“We are truly encouraged by the progress in the Commonwealth with respect to COVID-19, and hope it will continue and allow courts to gradually return to normal,” Chief Justice Kimberly Budd said in a statement. “At the same time, we hope to take some of the lessons learned during the pandemic and apply them going forward, particularly when it comes to conducting certain proceedings virtually.”

Due to juror notice requirements, jurors will not be available for trials in some locations until Sept. 7.

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SENIOR CARE VACCINES

A Massachusetts senior care company has announced that it will require workers at all of its facilities to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, one of the first in the state to make the move.

“We hope our announcement will be a springboard for others,” Adam Berman, Legacy Lifecare’s president and chief executive told The Boston Globe.

About 30% of Massachusetts nursing home staff are not vaccinated, according to the most recent state data, putting vulnerable residents at risk. About one-quarter of the nation’s pandemic deaths have occurred in nursing homes.

Berman said he was spurred by announcements from many of the state’s largest hospital systems that they would require COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees, and by the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.

Peabody-based Legacy Lifecare has about 1,800 workers and more than 75% are already vaccinated. The company operates facilities in Chelsea, Peabody, Longmeadow, Boston, and Wellesley.

Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, an industry group that represents nearly 400 facilities, said Legacy Lifecare is believed to be the first long-term senior care company in the state to enact a vaccine mandate. She expects others to follow.

Some national companies with Massachusetts facilities have vaccine mandates.

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STATEHOUSE REOPENING

Top legislative leaders are beginning to think about how — and when — to reopen the Massachusetts Statehouse, which has been closed to visitors since the early days of the pandemic last year.

Since then lawmakers have been able to participate in legislative sessions remotely or in person. Staff have also continued to work in a hybrid manner throughout the state of emergency and beyond, with most working from home and some in the Statehouse, according to Senate President Karen Spilka and House Speaker Ronald Mariano, both Democrats.

“While a large focus of the upcoming summer months will be the legislation ahead of us, we are also actively preparing our workplace for a safe return of members, staff, and the public,” the two said in a joint statement Wednesday.

The two said there are a number of factors to consider, given that the Statehouse is not only a workplace to hundreds of people, but it is a public building visited frequently by local residents and tourists alike.

“The Legislature is engaged with employees and will give them advance notice and guidance so they can plan their return to the State House, and a rebalancing of in-person and remote work. We are simultaneously planning a phased timeline of the reopening of the State House to the public as well,” the two said.