Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.
HAMILTON, Ohio - Like many Americans, Butler County Common Pleas Judge Keith Spaeth has worked from home for the last several weeks.
“Taking this (COVID-19) seriously is a matter of social responsibility that we owe to each other,” Spaeth said.
Spaeth told his office early on to do likewise and he has since worked with the prosecutor’s office and defense attorneys to extend cases until normal operations can resume. There are no jury trials scheduled for the time being and many defendants, except in the most serious cases, are receiving Own Recognizance bonds, which allows them to also stay at home provided they comply with court orders and appear when told to do so.
“This helps keep the inmate population at the jail down," Spaeth said. "I think what we’re doing is what people expect in terms of leadership."
However, while Spaeth can rule on motions from a desk at home and his staff can input new cases similarly, he regrets not being in court for one particular group: his Drug Court.
“I worry about that as much as anything,” Spaeth said.
He fears that without the regular appearances before him participants could relapse.
“Almost everything else we can do from home, but Drug Court is mostly meeting with people. Ninety percent of it is encouraging the participants to stay sober,” Spaeth said.
The 20-year-old Drug Court, which has served as a model for similar courts around Ohio, allows nonviolent, addicted offenders the chance to avoid prison time by choosing to make court-supervised changes in their lives. To graduate, participants cannot use alcohol or other drugs. They must maintain full-time employment, further their education and demonstrate their rehabilitation.
The court has held 42 semi-annual graduations.
“Drug Court works because it is the coming together of these departments, courts and people, so all of us can have a whole life,” Spaeth said at the most recent graduation in January.
For now all of those proceedings are on hold.
Elsewhere in the courthouse, where in-person hearings must be held, steps are taken to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing.
For example, only four inmates are brought into a courtroom at a time. Courthouse staff and staff at the prosecutor’s office rotate with 50% coming in one week and the other 50% the next.
“I can’t say enough of how proud I am of my office and staff to ‘keep the lights on’ to do their jobs and not be concerned with being the focus of attention,” said Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser.
Gmoser said he is equally proud of the members of the Butler County Grand Jury, whose term is close to expiring.
“Those grand jurors have agreed to stay on call through at least the month of April so we don’t have to bring in new grand jurors to train right now,” Gmoser said.
The toll that the COVID-19 outbreak and the stay-at-home order is taking on courthouse workers mirrors what has been reported around the country.
“Emotionally, well, I believe everyone is in the same boat,” said Spaeth’s bailiff, Rick LoBuono. “We swing from OK to very anxious. Personally, I feel quite lucky in that my wife is retired and not having to work and my daughter, son-in-law and their kids are close by.”
It’s that anxiety Spaeth feels when thinking about his Drug Court participants. He offered this message of encouragement for them until the next time he sees them.
“Keep the faith. I believe in you,” Spaeth said. “You deserve sobriety, a job and a good life. I look forward to praising your success and accomplishments at our next review hearing.”
Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:
- Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
- See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.
- State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
- See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.
- SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.
What is coronavirus, COVID-19?
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.
The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.
What are the symptoms? How does it spread?
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.
The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.
Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.
The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms.