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Federal courts in Maryland to require full COVID vaccination for entry

Come Sept. 8, anyone entering a federal courthouse in Maryland must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a new mandate from the state’s ranking federal judge.

Judge James K. Bredar, chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Maryland, issued his order Wednesday, citing a nationwide surge in the coronavirus pandemic driven by the highly contagious delta variant.

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Bredar noted that almost every jurisdiction in the state has what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates as “high” community coronavirus transmission.

Cases and hospitalizations have been increasing for almost two months in Maryland, climbing to levels not recorded since the spring, when vaccinations weren’t widely available yet, state health department data shows. The two-week average of new deaths recorded daily has also gradually climbed over the last month.

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With vaccines widely available across the state and the Pfizer-BioNTech immunization having received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Bredar wrote in a standing order that it was time to extend the vaccination policy for federal court and probation employees to all people seeking to enter a federal courthouse.

“Persons gathering in Courthouses are at particular risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus by virtue of their close proximity to others, and because of the interactive activity that generally occurs in court proceedings,” Bredar wrote.

The vaccine mandate does not apply to jurors, grand jurors, non-professional witnesses in criminal cases and criminal defendants, according to the standing order. The court can also grant exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

Anyone entering the courthouse will be asked to verify they’ve been fully vaccinated, the order states. People who do not respond to questions about their vaccination status will be treated as though they are unvaccinated.

Temporarily, Bredar’s order says that those who are not fully vaccinated can present a negative COVID-19 test result that was administered within the last three days. The judge expects to eliminate the testing option for visitors “in the near future,” though the order does not provide a date.

“The purpose of this extended vaccination policy is to protect the health and safety of all who gather in the Courthouses,” Bredar wrote.

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