LAURENS, S.C. (AP) — The first trial in a South Carolina courtroom since the COVID-19 pandemic began included spread out jurors, a glass shield around the witness stand and bailiffs reminding everyone that masks are required.
The murder trial started Tuesday in Laurens County and was the first case tried in front of a jury since courts closed in mid-March as the virust began spreading, Solicitor David Stumbo said.
Two additional rows of chairs were placed in front of the jury box so jurors could stay socially distant, The Index-Journal of Greenwood reported.
Only three spectators could sit in any one row, outside of the families of the defendant and the victim. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers sat on the opposite side of the courtroom from jurors. Everyone had to wear a mask, and bailiffs were quick to point out when noses and mouths were not covered.
South Carolina Chief Justice Don Beatty sat in the back of the courtroom as the trial began to make sure his rules to restart jury trials were being followed, then left after opening statements, the newspaper reported.
Lutavious Elmore is being tried for murder in the October 2018 stabbing death of Sergio Lindsey in a Laurens home.
COVID-19 continues to spread in South Carolina, although not as rapidly as earlier in the summer.
As the spike in newly diagnosed cases has leveled off, new deaths from the virus followed. South Carolina has averaged more than 40 deaths a day over the past week, the fourth highest rate in the country.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control reports nearly 95,000 South Carolina residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the first cases were reported March 7 with 1,819 people dying from the disease, a reminder that only a small percentage of those infected die and just a fraction become sick enough to end up in the hospital.
The return of jury trials in South Carolina is the latest step to bringing life back to whatever appears like normal in the pandemic world. The next, big step is returning to school.
The first districts are scheduled to start on Aug. 17 with others starting as late as Sept. 8. Some are letting students attend in person five days a week, some only two days and some plan to start all online with new COVID-19 cases still averaging five times more per day than they did on June 1. All districts are offering virtual classes this school year if students make a yearlong commitment.
The start of high school football in South Carolina was again delayed Wednesday. Practice won’t start until Sept. 8 with the first games delayed until Sept. 25, according to the South Carolina High School League.
The league also told schools that if the COVID-19 pandemic remains unchecked, fall sports like football could be delayed until the spring.
Two teacher organizations released a report Wednesday based on a survey of about a quarter of South Carolina’s 47,000 teachers. The survey from early June, before the massive spike in COVID-19 cases, found nearly all teachers wanted to return to school when safe.
Four in 10 teachers across the state said students didn’t have access to the internet or couldn’t use the digital tools for online learning and that total rose to 80% for teachers in rural areas, according to the survey conducted by the University of South Carolina for the Palmetto State Teachers Association and The South Carolina Education Association.
“Having internet today is the same thing as having a textbook in the 1950′s and 1960′s,” said Barnett Barry, a university professor who helped with the survey.