Visitors of COVID-19 Hotspots Barred From SDNY

MANHATTAN (CN) — The Southern District of New York, one of the most influential federal courts in the United States, shut its doors Monday to people who have visited countries in the last 14 days where the coronavirus epidemic is surging.

Five countries comprise the list: China, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran. Court officials are also denying entry to those who share living quarters or have otherwise been in close contact with someone from those countries within the last two weeks.

The Manhattan federal courthouse on Nov. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

“The Centers for Disease Control having advised people to take precautions in light of the COVID-19 virus (coronavirus) outbreak, and noting that the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus,” Chief U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon wrote in a 2-page standing order.

The order also bars entry for those who have been diagnosed with coronavirus, have had contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the disease, and those asked to self-quarantine.

“Anyone attempting to enter in violation of these protocols will be denied entry by a Court Security Officer,” Judge McMahon wrote.

One of the earliest New York cases of coronavirus was a lawyer, and the outbreak continues to batter the state’s legal community. Quinn Emanuel, a global white-shoe firm, has closed its New York offices after a partner there tested positive for the disease over the weekend.

The latest order from Judge McMahon follows a Friday order for all federal detainees transported to court have their temperatures taken. All of those who test 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will be not be allowed in the courthouse.

Two Southern District of New York courthouses are next door to New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison that has been on its second week of lockdown since authorities there found a loaded gun. The Federal Defenders of New York assert that the lockdown has created unsanitary conditions for several thousands of people living in tight quarters at a time of a global outbreak.

“In the wake of a complete shutdown last week at the MCC, some units of more than 25 people are sharing a single toilet,” the Federal Defenders, which provides pro bono defense counsel for indigent clients, said in a statement.

“Many people are locked in small cells with a cellmate sharing a toilet and sink,” the statement continued. “Nobody has been able to shower more than once every three days. Bedsheets and clothes have not been cleaned in over a week. Many of the people detained are elderly or have serious medical issues, populations that are particularly at high risk for death if they contract the virus.”

David Patton, the executive director of the organization, relayed grim accounts from attorneys who visited the prison over the weekend.

“My client has not had a shower in days,” one lawyer told Patton. “My nose was burning when I left the MCC. My client said that the rats and the mice were running wild.”

Another told Patton about his client: “He reported repeated personal property and body searches; consumption of low-quality food (and little of it); and zero regard for basic human hygiene, personal security, or humanity.”

The Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Outside the prison and legal systems, the outbreak continues to spread high and low throughout the Empire State, where more than 140 cases have been confirmed. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s leader Rick Cotton, whose agency represents the nation’s largest mass transit system, has contracted the virus. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned subway passengers about sharing crowded subways, and The New York Times reported on canceled classes at Columbia, Hofstra and Yeshiva universities.

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