CORONAVIRUS

COVID-19 in Iowa, live updates for March 14: Iowa Supreme Court puts jury trials on hold

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Corona
This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). This virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. (CDC via AP)

8:30 p.m.: Iowa sees first ‘community spread’ case

JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds called on Iowans Saturday night to take more aggressive measures to limit the spread of coronavirus now that the number of confirmed cases has risen to 18 and there is evidence of “community spread” of the outbreak.

The Iowa Department of Public Health “has determined, based on the new COVID-19 case and the announcement this evening of community spread in Omaha, Neb., there is now community spread in our state,” the governor said.

Reynolds told a news conference that the Health Department was notified the additional positive case involves a Dallas County resident in the 61-80 age range.

The 17 previous Iowa cases were related to travel. The origins of this new case were yet unknown — thus termed “community spread.”

6:42 p.m.: Jury trials on hold

The Iowa Supreme Court on Saturday ratcheted up the court system’s response to the COVID-19 threat, issuing an order that criminal and civil trials involving a jury that has not been seated yet be put on hold until at least April 20.

“We are very concerned about balancing the need to keep our courthouses open with the safety of our jurors and everyone who uses Iowa courthouses,” Chief Justice Susan Christensen said in a statement. “We have heard concerns from judges, attorneys, and jurors about court procedures that require large groups of people to gather in the courthouse or a courtroom so we completed a comprehensive review of what other states have done in response to coronavirus/COVID-19. The procedures in this order keep Iowa courts open to the fullest possible extent while protecting the public and our employees by giving judges the tools and flexibility that they need.”

The order allows jury trials that have already begun to proceed, and allows non-jury trials during the period as usual.

Among the criminal cases the ruling affects in Eastern Iowa are the March 30 trials of two defendants in Linn County: Jermaine Walker, who is charged with killing Wayne Jones at a Nov. 2, 2019, party; and Lamont James, who is HIV positive and charged with sexually abusing a teenage girl and transmitting the disease to her.

Unless the order is extended, the pause should not affect the trial of Andre Richardson, set for trial May 4 on murder charges in a double homicide outside a Cedar Rapids smoke shop.

The order declares that the emergency response to the coronavirus “constitutes good cause” for any delays that might affect a criminal’s right to a speedy trial. But the order makes it a priority to reschedule such cases when the delay is over.

The order also allows for key parties to request they appear by video conference rather than in person for sentencing hearings. The order does not say that such hearings must be delayed — but establishes a procedure for prosecutors, defense attorneys, defendants and witnesses to request a waiver for appearing in person.

Convicted killer Jerry Burns, 66, of Manchester, is scheduled to be sentenced April 17, three days before the order is set to expire unless extended. He was convicted last month in the cold-case murder of Michelle Martinko, 18, in 1979 at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids.

5:55 p.m. board of regents recalls all university faculty, staff and students outside of U.S.

The Iowa Board of Regents announced Saturday that it is recalling faculty, staff and students from the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa currently outside of the United States. The board has previously only recalled those in countries with a Level 3 travel advisory.

9:02 a.m.: CHANGES COME TO IOWA CITY SENIOR CENTER

The Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center is suspending all programming, Senior Center Coordinator LaTasha DeLoach announced Saturday morning.

Effective immediately, the Senior Center will be closed on weekends. Additionally, while the Senior Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, programs and extended hours will be suspended, the city said. Member spaces will remain available during business hours.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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