Editorial: N.C. courts, retail businesses show leadership in confronting COVID-19

Posted July 17, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Friday, July 17, 2020; Editorial #8564
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

North Carolinians seeking responsible leadership and concern for public health need look no further than their county courthouse or local retail stores.

Just hours after Walmart announced it would require shoppers to wear face coverings at every store in the nation – as COVID-19 virus infections continue to spike – several other retailers got in line or had already established similar requirements. CVS, Kroger, Harris Teeter, Kohl’s, Target, Apple, American Eagle Outfitters, Costco, Starbucks; Best Buy and more are a part of the trend.

“We know this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities,” said Dacona Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Walmart U.S., and Lance de la Rosa, Chief Operating Officer of Sam’s Club, in a statement issued earlier this week announcing the requirement for shopper face coverings.

“According to the CDC, face coverings help decrease the spread of COVID-19, and because the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected, it’s critically important for everyone to wear a face covering in public and social distance.”

These retailers know customers come first – their convenience and their safety – not to mention concern for their employees as well. They want healthy consumers who will be able to patronize their stores regularly.

This isn’t about the twisted notions of independence, freedom or individual rights we’ve heard from some in our General Assembly. Who complains when an establishment declares: “No shoes, no shirt. No service?” Well, now that declaration has been amended – but isn’t any more liberty infringing.

“No shoes, no shirt, no mask. No service.”

North Carolina’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, just Thursday, exhibited similar leadership-by-example for our state’s judicial system. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley had already been proactive several months ago, in declaring a delay in jury trials, extending filing deadlines for a variety of legal actions and allowing many court hearings and other matters to be conducted online or by teleconference.

In June, several in-person court proceedings were resumed. The timing has had unfortunate consequences, she said on Thursday. “Dozens of court personnel have contracted COVID19. Just last week, courts in five counties had to be closed after a known exposure to the virus. And sessions of court in several other counties also had to be cancelled. The truth is we cannot entirely reduce the risk of infection,” she said.

Her commitment to the safety of those who work in and at the courts, as well as concerns for public health, prompted her to issue two emergency directives. One continued the suspension of jury trials until at least the end of September as plans are developed for their safe resumption. The other requires face coverings be worn in all courthouse common areas.

In a recent national survey, 54% of Americans said they now are uncomfortable about being called for jury duty. However, 70% said they would be comfortable if there was a requirement that all courthouse employees and the public wear safety masks. Through the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Division of Emergency Management, the court system’s secured 175,000 disposable face masks and 21,000 cloth face masks so no one, regardless of whether they can afford a mask, will be turned away from a courthouse.

Beasley understands, as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied – for crime victims, defendants and others in law enforcement and the judicial system. She has directed senior resident superior court judges to “develop comprehensive plans for the eventual safe resumption of jury trials in their districts.” She noted each district is unique and that is why she wants plans by and for each judicial district with protocols so jury trials are as safe as possible.

“If we are to ensure that the available jury pool represents a fair cross section of the local community, the public must be confident that they can safely participate as a member of the jury,” Beasley said.

In these uneasy times, it is even more difficult to be out-front, take responsibility and act. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and our state’s court system along with the leaders of retail businesses in the state are showing how.

They offer examples others – and they know who they are – need to emulate.

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