County could vaccinate court, corrections workers

Chad Frey
McPhersonSentinel
The county prosecutor's office has created a list of court workers from District Court No. 9 who wish to be vaccinated, and those doses are in the cue for a round of vaccinations in the county.

The McPherson County Attorney's office is wading into unexpected waters the past few days — creating a list of people who want to receive vaccines for COVID-19.

"We have had a couple law offices in McPherson closed due to COVID-19 and had a prosecutor die in Kansas City. Missouri,  which prompted me to reach out to [the McPherson County Health Department] about COVID-19 vaccines to keep the courts open," said Greg Benefiel, county attorney. 

Using a spreadsheet supplied by the Health Department, the county attorney's office has surveyed judges, court clerks, the prosecutor's office and court services and community corrections workers (probation officers and juvenile intake workers).

Those employees were surveyed during the week of Jan. 3 — the same week that guidance came out from the governor's office for a five-phase vaccine rollout. 

"My concern has been and is that if the judges, court clerks, prosecutors, etc. contracted COVID-19 which led to closure of the court or prosecutor’s office due to COVID-19 infections and quarantines, it could impact the rights of defendants and potentially impact public safety," Benefiel said. 

There are  41 people on the list from the county prosecutor's office. The list does not contain law enforcement officers, which Benefiel said fall into a different category of worker.

Some of court workers have already suffered from the virus.  The most recent statistics from the McPherson County Health Department, released Jan. 7,  showed 72 infections in about three days and 31 deaths in the county since the pandemic began. 

"We have had several people from the list that have already contracted COVID-19," Benefiel said.  "Our court system is the envy of the world, and it does have an impact when someone in the system contracts the virus.  We’ve had a number of defense attorneys who have contracted COVID-19, and I hope that they will be considered for designation as essential/critical because they also help keep the criminal justice system functioning."

The governor announced an updated plan for vaccination on Jan. 15, those receiving the vaccine in Phase I remained largely the same. Health care workers, residents in long-term care facilities and workers critical to the continuity of the pandemic response will receive those doses first. That includes certain state employees.

Phase 1 is expected to last until the end of this month. Phase 2 vaccine recipients will include high-contact critical workers, like grocery store employees. Those living and working in congregate settings where social distancing isn't possible, such as homeless shelters, child care settings or emergency shelters, also are in this phase.

Phase 3 will include other critical workers and those aged 16 to 64 with severe medical risks, such as cancer, heart disease, pregnancy and Type 2 diabetes. Phase 4 will include those in the same age range but with less severe medical risks, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, liver disease, Type 1 diabetes and dementia.

The last phase will be everyone else over the age of 16. Those younger than 16 may be included, depending on research on the vaccine's effect on children. 

KDHE is expecting a shipment of about 17,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 17,000 of the Moderna vaccine this week. 

A poster presented at Thursday's COVID-19 update news conference shows the five Kansas vaccination phases by population.

It is not known when doses will be made available and vaccinations could start for the court employees on the McPherson County list. 

According to Nick Gregory, city manager for the city of McPherson, the health department expected a shipment of vaccines this week that could be use to finish vaccination of healthcare workers, first responders and long-term care residents and workers.  

"Ultimately it will be up to the Health Department to determine which groups and individuals receive the vaccine and when," Benefiel said.  "This is simply a list that will hopefully make it easier for the Health Department because time is of the essence when it comes to using these vaccines. " 

Chief Justice Marla Luckert issued a new administrative order Jan. 8 continuing to suspend statutes of limitation, statutory time standards, deadlines, and time limitations started under earlier orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Luckert's action to issue Administrative Order 2021-PR-001 follows the State Finance Council's January 6 decision extending the COVID-19 state of disaster emergency from January 11 through January 26.

Courts may conduct in-person hearings—including jury trials with an approved jury plan—if appropriate measures are in place to protect the health of courtroom participants. These measures can include:screening people as they enter the courthouse or courtroom; managing the number of people in a courtroom; providing adequate physical distancing; using physical barriers; using personal protective equipment; and cleaning and sanitizing court spaces.