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Shutdown of municipal court to continue until at least Monday

Hearings at Vicksburg Municipal Court remain suspended until Monday out of an abundance of caution after more Vicksburg police investigators tested positive for COVID-19.

Three more police officers tested positive on Thursday, making a total of eight officers infected.

Court was expected to resume Thursday, but Municipal Judge Angela Carpenter said a decision was made to extend the suspension until 8 a.m. Monday.

She said initial appearances for people charged with felonies are being done through Zoom or another video venue until in-person proceedings can resume safely.

“So far, we have not had any felony initial appearances,” she said.

The decision to close court was made Wednesday after five police officers and one court services employee tested positive for COVID-19, and the city hired a contractor to clean and sanitize the building.

Steve Williams, the city’s safety director confirmed the number of individuals infected. He said the positive cases at the police department have been linked to one investigator.

“We did our contact tracing and we narrowed it down to one officer who was potentially the first one who acquired it and brought it in,” he said. He said the officer did not know where he contracted the disease.

Williams said the investigations division is located in an area where there are small offices “so we’re almost positive it didn’t come from suspects or witnesses or anything like that.”

He said the virus was spread through long-term contact between the officer and other employees.

“No one came down with symptoms except over the weekend, so it was hard to say that anyone came to work sick. Everyone followed procedure. Monday they called in sick and got tested and they tested positive,” Williams said. “Those they worked with were in direct contact so those numbers were positive.

“From what we could tell, all the procedures were followed and just being in close contact — even with the mask on — for a long period of time, the spread came from working together and riding in the cars together,” Williams said.

He said the city’s procedure requires that when an employee develops symptoms they call their supervisor, adding all the officers affected called in sick.

Williams said the officers were tested for COVID-19 at the city’s clinic with a rapid test and the standard test for the disease as a backup. Both tests, he said, were positive.

After the initial officers tested positive, Williams said, contact tracing was done to determine which other officers may have been infected.

After the officers tested positive, court and police department employees were ordered to wear masks in the building even if they practiced social distancing.

Carpenter, who said she has been tested, said no other court service employees have tested positive.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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