Photos Cameron Flaisch
With the great outdoors providing recreation for so many seeking fresh air during the coronavirus pandemic, the trail system in downtown Rome has been a resource citizen have flocked to more than usual in the past few months. The path winding along the Oostanaula River leads travelers by the Floyd County Courthouse adjacent to the Forum River Center.
Passersby can’t help but notice the pop-up tent surrounded by police tape located directly outside of the courthouse, or the officers from the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department prepared to screen entrants who need to conduct essential business inside the courthouse. It is yet another stark scene that has become the norm as of late, but the efforts of those officers certainly put them in harm’s way.
When possible, many hearings are being held via video conferencing, significantly reducing the amount of people entering the building. However temporary protective orders and bond hearings are still being held and while traffic into the building is not overwhelming, it still requires a great deal of coordination.
“It’s hard to have court with everyone six feet apart,” says Deputy Ben Clements. “Most cases have several defendants that need to be heard. If you aren’t regularly part of court proceedings you wouldn’t know that it is so difficult, but we have found ways to make it work.”
Clements, who began working for the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department in October, said that he experienced a brief stint of normalcy on the job before feeling the effects of the pandemic. His surgical mask became a mandatory part of his uniform after about a month on the job.
“I actually had a bout of bronchitis during all of this,” says Clements. “I went to the doctor immediately and got tested and was cleared to return so that was an interesting experience, but the safety of our officers and all that we come in contact with is our top priority.”
Every person who enters the courthouse is first screened for fever, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and is asked if they have been exposed to anyone who has had or come into contact with the virus. Judges are not exempt from these screenings, as the officers are vigilant to ensure the health and safety of everyone who visits the building. This is just another example of the new normal we are living in, but Clements has seen plenty of positives throughout the ordeal.
“It’s really interesting how this has brought us all together,” says Clements. “We are all united in fighting against this common enemy and my interactions with people have been extremely positive. Things may not be easy right now, but that unity is nice to see and gives everyone hope that we will get through this together.”