By: Patti Weaver

(Stillwater, Okla.) — After a six-week closure on the order of the state Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the Payne County Courthouse re-opened this week for matters such as marriage licenses — but the court system will not be open until May 18 when special rules will be in effect, according to Sheriff Kevin Woodward.

Beginning Monday, “All non-employee personnel entering the courthouse shall be required to wear masks. Masks shall be provided at the door. Sanitizer stations will be available throughout the courthouse,” District Judge Phillip Corley ruled in a written order.

“Authorities at the courthouse door shall determine what business individuals have at the courthouse, which courtroom they are assigned and will take a cell phone number so they can be reached when it is their time to appear in court. The parties may wait outside or in their cars. If a party does not have a cell phone, they may wait for their names to be called.

“Court dockets, hearings and non-jury trial matters shall commence effective May 18, 2020. The beginning of all dockets shall be limited to attorneys only.

“Social distancing inside the courtroom and in the hallway outside the courtroom shall be maintained at all times. The court will limit the number of persons in the courtroom at any given time in order to maintain social distancing,” Judge Corley ordered.

Under Judge Corley’s order, persons prohibited from entering any courtroom, court clerk’s office, judges’ offices or other facility used by the court include:

* anyone diagnosed with or having direct contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19;

* anyone with cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing or having at least two of these symptoms — fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat or recent loss of taste or smell.

* anyone who has traveled to any country outside the U.S. in the past 14 days, and those with whom they live or had close contact;

* anyone quarantined or isolated by any doctor or who voluntarily quarantines.

No one in the sheriff’s office or the jail has tested positive for the coronavirus, Woodward said in an interview this week.

“When this started, we had a possible secondary exposure in the Cushing area. One deputy self-quarantined for two weeks,” the sheriff added.

“I had a person from the public come in yesterday. He wanted to see what we’re doing,” and left with a favorable impression, the sheriff said.

“When booked, a prisoner is required to wear a mask,” and any time a prisoner is having contact with the sheriff’s staff or a medical provider, Woodward said.

“As we deal with them, the medical staff test for temperatures only. I have four quarantine cells I haven’t used, not as of yet,” the sheriff said.

If a prisoner is expected to be held in jail for only a few days, he or she “is put in a short-term cell to limit exposure to people in the facility,” the sheriff said.

Prisoners in the regular cells do not wear masks in the Payne County Jail, which is not on lockdown, the sheriff said.

“They can still access the day areas as they normally would be,” the sheriff explained.

Prisoners are still being given one free phone card each week, the sheriff said.

“Each pod (in the jail) has two video computers in the day area where they use their phone card,” the sheriff said.

“We haven’t decided when to resume normal visitation,” which had been held on Wednesday mornings before the coronavirus pandemic, the sheriff said.

“We hope to start up free services for our inmates later his month,” including classes regarding substance abuse, self-esteem and parenting, as well as visits from ministers and special programs about veterans’ benefits, mental health and rehabilitation services, the sheriff said.

People held in the Payne County Jail, as well as the public, have been cooperative during the pandemic, the sheriff said.

“As long as you share information, everybody is real cooperative, including the persons held in the facility,” the sheriff said.

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