RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ (NCDHHS) latest update to its COVID-19 vaccination plan includes a wide range of judicial and court workers.
NCDHHS’ Vaccine Prioritization Framework altered its Front Line Essential Workers (Group 3) on Jan. 14 to include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) suggestions for essential workers. According to the related CISA memorandum, essential workers include those “supporting the operations of the judicial system, including judges, lawyers, and others providing legal assistance.”
The same day NCDHHS made the changes, NC State Bar President Barbara Christy issued a letter to Cooper and Cohen thanking them for their efforts and for recognizing “the essential nature of the services provided within the judicial branch and allowed judges, lawyers, and courthouse staff to continue administering justice to North Carolina citizens as constitutionally mandated.”
The changes were in part prompted by a Jan. 6 letter to Gov. Roy Cooper from Chief Justice Paul Newby asking for courthouse personnel to be included in NCDHHS’ frontline essential workers participating in Phase 1B of vaccinations. Newby’s letter also references the CISA memorandum, noting it states officials should “use their own judgment in making decisions regarding resource allocation and other public health measures.”
On Jan. 15, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen responded to Newby’s letter and said changes to the state’s vaccine prioritization is “evolving” at the state and federal levels and North Carolina would include the eight recommended CISA categories and noting prioritization directives from federal health officials.
“On Tuesday, the US HHS and Operation Warp Speed directed states to go to the 65 years and older population as the next group to receive vaccine and NC will follow this recommendation with an announcement tomorrow,” wrote Cohen. “Other groups will move down in the prioritization framework to allow for providers to vaccinate those in Groups 1 and 2 who are at higher risk for severe illness and death.”
Newby’s letter, which focused on staff such as clerks, judges, bailiffs and lawyers who frequent courthouses, is possibly being interpreted by counties to include all lawyers and legal workers. North State Journal obtained an email sent to the Forsyth County Bar Association by Carrie F. Vickery, District Court judge of the 21st Judicial District, that appears to make that case. Vickery’s email references the CISA list of judicial workers that includes judges, lawyers and a host of others. According to that email, none of the workers will need to provide proof.
“I have spoken with the Forsyth County Department of Public Health to determine what an individual would need to show to confirm they fall within the Frontline Essential Worker category. You will only need to provide an affirmative statement that you fall within this category. No documentation or other confirmation is required,” Vickery’s email reads.
According to the North Carolina State Bar’s website, the organization “currently regulates over 28,000 licensed lawyers.”