On March 12, 2020, Governor Northam entered Executive Order Number Fifty-One (2020) Declaration of a State of Emergency Due to Novel Coronavirus COVID-19. The Governor noted that the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has been working with local, state, and federal officials, healthcare and emergency management experts, and various state agencies to form a COVID-19 Taskforce to prepare for and respond to this threat, and that, given recent confirmed occurrences of COVID-19 within the Commonwealth and in neighboring states, as well as information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is anticipated that the disease will spread. A state of emergency exists in the Commonwealth of Virginia and efforts of the executive branch are underway to continue to prepare and coordinate its response to the potential spread of COVID-19, a communicable disease of public health threat. This state of emergency became effective March 12, 2020, and is to remain in full force and in effect until June 10, 2020, unless sooner amended or rescinded by further executive order.
On March 13, 2020, the Governor advised that "if you have not already, please continue to review your [Continuity of Operations or] COOP plan. It is critical that you think about essential functions as they relate specifically to the COVID-19 event." Many courts are actively doing so and court users and the public may access information on courts' responses to the COVID-19 emergency online at: http://www.vacourts.gov/. All judges and clerks may access resources and information via the Court's intranet site at: http://oesinet/. Courts that have not alryady done so, should review their continuity of operations plan and consult remotely with local stakeholders.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Virginia's Pandemic Flu Preparedness Commission issued the Pandemic Influenza Bench Book for Virginia's Court System and it has been available since then to the public and court personnel via the Court's web site at: http://www.vacourts.gov/programs/pfp/benchbook.pdf. It was revised in 2017, and most recently was specifically referenced in emails sent to all judges and clerks by the Executive Secretary on February 26 and March 11, 2020, with information for all courts to use in addressing the current COVID-19 emergency.
On Sunday March 15, 2020, Governor Northam announced a statewide ban on all events over 100 people. In light of the foregoing and the Chief Justice having received today, March 16, 2020, a request from the Governor for a declaration of a judicial emergency in all district and circuit courts of the Commonwealth of Virginia, pursuant to Va. Code§ 17.1-330, this Order declaring a judicial emergency is hereby issued for all district and circuit courts of the Commonwealth to protect the health and safety of court employees, litigants, judges, and the general public. This Order shall be in effect from today, Monday, March 16, to Monday, April 6, 2020, and it is hereby ORDERED that NON-ESSENTIAL, NON-EMERGENCY court proceedings in all circuit and district courts be and hereby are SUSPENDED and all deadlines are hereby tolled and extended, pursuant to Va. Code§ 17.l-330(D), for a period of twenty-one (21) days, and all circuit and district courts shall implement the following measures absent a specific exception as listed below:
Nothing in this Order shall preclude the chief district and chief circuit judges from implementing additional local policies as needed. Except as provided in this order, to the extent possible, the courts and clerks' offices shall remain perational and provide essential services while balancing the health and safety needs of court visitors and personnel. This Order shall be effective from March 16, 2020, to April 6, 2020, This Order may be extended for additional periods not to exceed 21 calendar days or for the duration of the threat, by a majority of the justices of the Supreme Court to mitigate the risks potential spread of COVID-19.