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The Checkup: Baby steps on restarting trial courts

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With this daily feature, The Eagle runs down breaking local developments in the coronavirus crisis.

BABY STEPS ON RESUMPTION OF TRIALS: The Supreme Judicial Court rolled out a plan this week on how to get the wheels of justice turning again in Massachusetts. It is asking the public to weigh in.

Perhaps taking a page from the phased reopening designed by the Baker administration, an SJC committee suggests small steps toward the resumption of trials.

That would begin, according to the plan, with a kind of mock court, in which volunteers act out the roles of courtroom participants. Once that's done, actual sessions could begin, but only for two months and in new ways. For instance, juries would be made up of six people, plus alternates. Such sessions would be limited to one location in each county.

At the outset, the trials would be civil cases or relatively minor criminal ones — involving a person not in custody.

Along the way, the SJC's panel would collect intel on how it's all going, and refine from there, according to the plan. Unless rising COVID-19 counts push it back to the beginning, a next phase would expand to courts with room for larger juries. At this point, preference would be given to high-priority cases, as decided locally.

Once a Phase 3 arrives, at no set date, courts would begin the business of catching up on the trial backlog, perhaps by holding some in non-traditional spaces, the plan says. Comments can be sent by email to christine.burak@jud.state.ma.us by Aug. 14.

THE NUMBERS: Berkshire County's death toll remained at 46 as of Thursday, unchanged since July 30. The confirmed COVID-19 case count rose two to 666, the state Department of Public Health said.

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The DPH said 32 new deaths were reported in Massachusetts, pushing the statewide total to 8,470. The number of confirmed cases rose 162 to 111,533. Meantime, probable cases (a separate tally) climbed by 69 to 8,341.

The case totals (and death counts) in neighboring counties: Franklin, up two to 409 (61); Hampshire, up eight to 1,158 (up one to 128); Hampden, up 23 to 7,541 (up one to 700).

As of Thursday, 24,450 cases have been confirmed among residents and staff of long-term care facilities. In all, 376 facilities have had at least one confirmed case and have seen 5,541 deaths linked to COVID-19, a one-day increase of 26.

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LEADING INDICATORS: The state Department of Public Health provides the following statistics daily as indicators in the fight against coronavirus infection. Each provides a number and then a percentage change since April 15. Thursday's figures:

- Seven-day weighted average of positive test rate: 2.1, down 93 percent.

- Three-day average of number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals: 384, down 89 percent.

- Number of hospitals using surge capacity to care: 4, down 81 percent.

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- Three-day average of COVID-19 deaths: 12, down 92 percent.

TWO WEEK LOOKBACK: The Eagle is also calculating results for a 14-day lookback on some leading indicators. As of Thursday, positive tests over a seven-day period showed a 19.17 percent advance from two weeks ago. The three-day average of the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals represented a 17.35 percent decline. But the three-day average of confirmed COVID-19 deaths rose 19.35 percent from two weeks ago.

AT THE HOSPITALS: As of Thursday, Berkshire Medical Center reported caring for one patient, not in intensive care. Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington had no cases.

The COVID-19 patient count for other western Massachusetts hospitals: Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, three cases, none in ICU; Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, one case, not in ICU; Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, 33 cases, three in ICU; Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, eight cases, one in ICU; Holyoke Hospital, 11 cases, two in ICU; Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield, two cases, neither in ICU.

The numbers include both confirmed and suspected cases.

Statewide, as of Thursday there were 403 people hospitalized, with the latest daily admission of 165 people. Of those hospitalized, 73 are in ICU and 32 are on ventilators.

To contribute news to The Checkup, please email lparnass@berkshireeagle.com or call 413-588-8341.


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