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Taney County courts employee tests positive for COVID, brings back strict rules

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BRANSON, Mo. — The Taney County Circuit Courts are back to operating with strict safety rules due to a positive case of COVID-19.

This transition has happened because Missouri Supreme Courts require circuit courts to phase back to one or zero when any staff member tests positive for the virus.

Taney County’s Circuit Courts have phased back to zero, which means more court cases will either be rescheduled or done online.

The security team at the courts will be screening all visitors of the Judicial Center to see if they “have essential emergency matters to attend to.”

Sanitizing and suspension of non-essential travel is required of all employees of the courthouse during phase zero.

“I made a decision to phase down to phase zero just because there was some concern about whether or not the person who had gotten the positive test might have been exposed and then been at work prior to getting tested,” said Jeffery Merrell, presiding circuit judge. “It’s just out of an abundance of caution phase down to phase zero.”

Judge Merrell says going back to measures they haven’t used since the pandemic began in March will cause some issues.

“Scheduling, huge challenges for the clerks,” said Merrell. “For the judges, for the litigants, it’s a big problem and a big challenge. We understand that, but we have to do what we have to do to one follow the Supreme Court’s directives, and two to keep the public safe.”

Joe Allen, an attorney from Branson, says it has made things a little more complicated.

“It’s frustrating a little bit,” said Allen. “All of my cases in Taney County have been continued, but I still have to run up to Christian County because that court is still open.”

Allen says he appreciates and understands the courts finding a way to stay open. He says he is a pro at phase zero after already being through it earlier this year.

“Now that we’ve gone through it for a certain amount of months, I kind of feel like we’re seasoned at doing this,” said Allen.

Merrell says the courthouse is still open and will transition back to phase one in 10 days if nobody else tests positive for COVID-19.

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