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On Monday, Gov. Mike Parson announced that two more patients have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, bringing Missouri’s total to eight.

The Missouri state laboratory has tested 215 people to date; of the eight positive results, three each are in Greene and St. Louis counties, and one each in St. Louis City and Henry County.  

A briefing for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 program that was initially set for Thursday has been canceled in keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials with Missouri State University-West Plains announced Tuesday morning changes would be made to campus events as precautions to help protect students and staff against the novel coronavirus pandemic. The changes are consistent with those announced by Missouri State University-Springfield officials, also on Tuesday.

Statewide, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Monday to limit all in-person proceedings in Missouri courts, including municipal and probate divisions, until April 3, following Friday’s declarations of state and national emergencies related to COVID-19.

SECTION 8 BRIEFING CANCELED

Ozark Action Housing Director Ed Button announced late Monday afternoon the HUD Section 8 briefing that was to be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Ozark Action in West Plains is canceled.

“Following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding slowing the spread of the coronavirus, we have decided it is in the best interest of our staff and patrons to cancel Thursday’s meeting,” said Button. He added that, typically, about 50 people attend the meetings each month.

“With the gathering guidelines dropping from 250 to 50 people over the course of a few days, we have decided to cancel the event out of abundance of caution,” he explained.

In declaring a state of emergency Friday in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Parson urged gatherings of 50 or more people to be canceled. President Donald Trump, in his national emergency declaration the same day, said gatherings should be limited to 10 people.

According to Button, the HUD Section 8 briefing for April is still set to take place, however, he said those plans may change.

The Section 8 housing choice voucher program, administered through HUD, is a federal program that helps very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market through rental and utilities assistance.

For more information, call Ozark Action at 256-6147.

MSU-WP MOVES ONLINE

The changes announced for Missouri State University-West Plains and the Shannon Hall facility in Mtn. Grove include an extended spring break until March 30, and the cancellation of in-person classes for the rest of the semester.

Those classes at West Plains and Shannon Hall in Mtn. Grove will be offered using an alternative means. It is hoped that by taking these measures now, regular classes can resume in fall as usual, university officials said.

Unless otherwise directed, the campuses in West Plains and Mtn. Grove will remain open, as will Grizzly House and Grizzly Lofts residence halls for those who must be on campus, but social distancing arrangements will be made and modified dining options will be provided.

The Garnett Library and computer labs will be open on a modified schedule for students who need to use the resources to complete coursework. Arrangements are being made to ensure social distancing is observed in these spaces.

The Student Recreation Center will be closed until further notice except in the case of a tornado warning when it will be opened to the community for sheltering purposes.

All non-academic and student events scheduled through the end of the semester are canceled, including the Celebration of Leaders student awards ceremony and the Grizzly Athletics Sports Banquet.

Commencement will proceed, although the date and details of the ceremonies are subject to change.

All campus meetings, events and conferences with more than 50 people are canceled or postponed, and additional details may be found in the campus calendar of events.

Detailed information for university employees will be sent out Thursday, said officials. Full details concerning MSU-WP’s response to COVID-19 can be found at wp.missouristate.edu.

ALL LOCAL HEARINGS SUSPENDED

A day after the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision to suspend non-emergency in-person hearings, 37th Judicial Circuit Court Presiding Judge Steven Privette announced Tuesday all in-person court proceedings will be suspended through April 3.

Similarly, West Plains Municipal Court proceedings for the month of March have been rescheduled to be held in June, city officials announced.

The Howell County Clerk’s office will stay open in order to accommodate the filing of adult abuse and child protection orders, and other emergency court filings, Privette said, reminding the public that fines and court costs may be still paid online at the Missouri Courts home page, courts.mo.gov. That website is also the site to check the status of any pending case via Casenet.

Anyone with a pending case is encouraged to contact his or her attorney for details, Privette added, and the circuit clerk’s office and prosecuting attorney’s office are open to answer questions about criminal cases.

“I appreciate everyone’s patience during this time,” Privette said.     

West Plains Municipal Court hearings scheduled for Thursday and March 26 have been rescheduled; no proceedings were set for April 2. Court proceedings scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Thursday are now scheduled for 9 a.m. June 4, while those set to begin at 9 a.m. March 26 will now be held at 1 p.m. June 4, said city officials.

Officials expect the municipal court will be in session for the trials scheduled for April 9.

Anyone wishing to pay fines online may do so at www.wpmunipay.com, by phone at 417-372-8573, or by dropping it in the drop box located in the parking lot at City Hall, 1910 Holiday Lane. The envelope should be clearly marked “Municipal Court Payment”.

City officials added that this is a developing situation and court proceedings are subject to change based upon recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State of Missouri.

For more information about the municipal court, call 256-6154.

The Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling indicates that courts will remain open, and judges and court clerks are encouraged to use available technology, including email, teleconferencing and video conferencing as needed. Local, criminal and civil rules restricting the use of those technologies are suspended until April 3.

The limit on in-person court proceedings may be extended past April 3 as circumstances call for it, officials said.  

The order does not apply to consideration or ruling on any matter that doesn’t require an in-person court proceeding and also excludes filing deadlines that apply to files submitted through the state’s e-filing system.

“Despite the suspension of in-person court proceedings, Missouri courts still must continue to carry out the core, constitutional functions of the Missouri judiciary as prescribed by law and continue to uphold the constitutional rights of litigants seeking redress in any Missouri court,” the ruling reads.”  Each courthouse should work with local law enforcement and county agencies to ensure that, to the extent possible, courthouses remain accessible to carry out essential constitutional functions and time-sensitive proceedings.”

There are some exceptions to the limitations. They include proceedings needed to protect constitutional rights of defendants and children; jury trials already in progress; orders of protection, emergency child custody orders, temporary restraining orders and injunctive relief, emergency mental health orders and emergency guardianship or conservatorship; proceedings directly related to the COVID-19 public health emergency; and oral arguments regarding time-sensitive matters.

The presiding judge of each circuit court and the chief judges of each appellate court are authorized to determine how those exceptions will be made. Any such proceeding will be limited to the attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers and others necessary to the proceedings, as determined by the presiding judge. The presiding judge also has the discretion to dismiss jurors or other individuals that cannot or should not appear because of COVID-19 related risks.

In the case that a courthouse must be closed during the suspension period, the court must ensure it remains accessible by telephone and email during regular business hours as much as possible. Supreme Court officials must be notified of courthouse closings and the information must be passed along to local media, and notices posted on the courthouse doors.  

As it stands, each court is now instructed to post an order on the courthouse doors barring access to any individual that has been exposed to or is showing symptoms of COVID-19. The notice must provide contact information so those individuals can have remote access to the court.

Non-essential travel by judicial employees has also been suspended, including travel for participation in Supreme Court committee meetings; those will be meetings rescheduled or conducted by teleconference when possible. 

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