Judicial Changes in Minnesota Due to COVID-19

As America watches the Minnesota criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, we have all noticed changes in the courtroom due to the COVID-19 pandemic–such as the large amount of plexiglass. In a recent Law360 interview, the District of Minnesota’s Chief Judge John Tunheim discussed the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the judicial process and how those changes may continue beyond the pandemic. 

Chief Judge Tunheim explained during the interview that the District of Minnesota will continue holding Zoom trials for civil court cases even after the pandemic restrictions are lifted due to the multitude of benefits the court has seen. Those benefits include relieving the backlog of criminal trials, allowing trials to proceed despite the unpredictable Minnesota weather, and ensuring that jury pools more accurately reflect a diverse cross-section of the community. 

Minnesota’s Virtual Civil Courts

Chief Judge Tunheim explained that in the District of Minnesota jury trials and in-person hearings will resume on May 3, 2021 after jurors return on May 1. However, Chief Judge Tunheim said that he, along with many other judges, will still do as many hearings and bench trials as possible via Zoom — partly in order to decrease the amount of people coming to the courthouse. 

However, Chief Judge Tunheim noted that Minnesota will likely not get to its plethora of civil cases right away due to the substantial backlog of criminal trials. Currently, only two courtrooms are being used for in-person court proceedings–one in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul. This obviously makes it difficult to expedite the judicial process. Chief Judge Tunheim hopes to clear out the backlog of criminal trials by using Zoom for civil trials. 

The master trial calendar from May 3 until the end of December 2021 states that there will only be two cases tried at a time and priority will be given to criminal cases since criminal cases cannot be tried virtually. However, Chief Judge Tunheim is hopeful that later in the summer access to the courts will have expanded, allowing more courtrooms to open. This is largely dependent on how comfortable jurors feel about sitting next to each other. 

For all civil trials, the court is offering the option for a virtual civil jury using Zoom. It is only an option–not an obligation. However, judges are strongly encouraging lawyers to agree to a virtual jury trial.

Pros and Cons of Virtual Civil Trials

Chief Judge Tunheim emphasized the convenience and decreased costs of virtual trials. For instance, attorneys and witnesses do not have to fly across the country and pay for transportation and lodging to participate in the trial. This can result in trials occurring faster. However, there is extra work involved in virtual trials such as making sure that all jurors have access to the necessary technology, making sure that they have a stable Internet connection, making sure that they are comfortable using the technology, and having a courtroom deputy serve as a jury minder during the trial to assist the virtual civil jury. 

It is important to note that authority has not been given to conduct criminal trials virtually, and so virtual trials only apply to civil cases. Currently, there is a criminal case backlog of 20 to 25 criminal cases pending in the District of Minnesota and 30% of criminal defendants have not authorized videoconferencing for their hearings (pretrial hearings, change of pleas and sentencing hearings). An estimated half of those 20 to 25 cases will go to trial. Chief Judge Tunheim explained that there is a larger number of civil cases in the backlog because a firm trial date is a very important part of the settlement process, and it is currently unclear when most trials will occur.

Virtual Civil Trials After the Pandemic?

Chief Judge Tunheim cited the non-pandemic related benefits of virtual civil trials such as being able to try cases during the unpredictable Minnesota winters, less expensive lodging and transportation costs for jurors, lawyers, and witnesses, a better cross-section of the community being represented in jury pools, and allowing a broader public audience to see the judicial system in action. 

Zoom trials allow juries to encompass a broader portion of the community because the virtual alternative eliminates a lot of the reasons jurors may have been unable to participate before such as having children at home, running a small business, having farm duties, living multiple hours away, or using a wheelchair. 

Chief Judge Tunheim emphasized that the state of Minnesota has purchased technology equipment to make sure that all jurors have access to the necessary technology, know how to use it, and have a stable Internet connection.

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Staying Safe on the 100 Most Traveled Days

100 Most Traveled Days of the Year

The 100 days from Memorial Day through Labor Day are referred to as the 100 most traveled days. However, these can also be the 100 most dangerous days on the roads. Although the period encompasses only one quarter of the year, over 1/3 of traffic deaths occur during that time. For instance, in 2019, 136 of the 364 traffic fatalities (37%) in Minnesota occurred during those 100 days.

The most common reasons for serious and fatal motor vehicle crashes include speeding, distracted driving, lack of seatbelt use, and drunk driving.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic volumes decreased. However, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, there were more traffic deaths from March 16 through May 18 of 2020 (50) compared to the same period during 2019 (47). Memorial Day 2020 was the deadliest Memorial Day since 2010, with 8 traffic fatalities on Minnesota roads.

The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) is taking the following measures to combat the dangers of driving during the 100 most traveled days:

  • Working with police to generate extra enforcement on the roads
  • Special enforcement for speed violations on June 22 through July 19
  • Extra hands-free phone enforcement on the week of the one-year anniversary of the hands-free cell phone law: August 1-8
  • Additional impaired driving enforcement campaign: August 14 – September 7

 More Road Trips During Summer 2020: How People Feel and What the Pandemic May Mean for Future Travel Plans 

A survey of 1,371 people (mostly older people from Minnesota or the Midwest) conducted by Minnesota’s state tourism promotion office—Explore Minnesota—states that people are ready to travel around Minnesota but are feeling cautious. Explore Minnesota’s director, John Edman, said that “[t]he tourism industry has been significantly impacted and forever changed in recent months, but these targeted survey results offer a cautious sense of optimism about the future of travel throughout Minnesota. Consumers are anxious to travel, but also concerned about their safety. Travel and tourism businesses across the state are listening and have made visitors’ safety a priority, implementing stringent safety protocols including increased sanitation, contactless check-in, staff wearing masks and more.”

62.5% of the survey participants said that they have tentative plans to take a leisure trip and 50% of the participants have at least tentative plans for a trip this fall. The trips that have been planned were found to be mostly road trips that are close to home—only 23% of participants said that their next trip will be more than 500 miles away from home.

In a survey of 1,000 Americans by tourism research firm Longwoods, over half of participants planned to visit family or friends in the United States this summer. Of those participants, 73% of them plan to do so by car.

In the Chicago area, University of Illinois-Chicago researchers found that more people in the Chicago area are anticipating taking road trips even after the COVID-19 pandemic due to fears about the safety of air travel due to the virus. After surveying more than 1,000 people in the Chicago area, the researchers concluded that many people were uncomfortable about traveling on an airplane and anticipated taking more long-distance trips in their cars instead.

Although 1,000 survey participants is a relatively small sample size, researchers will be starting a national-level study soon in collaboration with Arizona State University regarding travel plans as states continue reopening.

Precautions to Stay Safe Traveling by Car: Prepare, Make Reservations, and Wear a Face Mask

  • Do not travel to COVID-19 hotspots
  • Only travel with individuals you have already quarantined with
  • Sanitize the car prior, during, and after the trip
  • Take your own food
  • Use contactless payment throughout your trip
  • Avoid large crowds
  • Consider capacity limits for restaurants, hotels and local attractions or theme parks and make reservations
  • If you need to use the bathroom, check for signs that it has recently been cleaned, do not touch surfaces or handles, and wait until everyone has come out

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FDA Pulls Emergency Use Authorization for Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 Treatment

FDA Revokes Emergency Use Authorization:

On June 15, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rescinded the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) allowing hospital patients to use certain malaria medications such as hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for treating COVID-19. The announcement warned that these medicines “are unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized use in the EUA” and that “the totality of scientific evidence currently available indicate a lack of benefit.”

Furthermore, the announcement also cited a non-clinical study that administered the two drugs along with Gilead’s remdesivir COVID-19 medication and the presence of the malaria drugs “may result in reduced antiviral activity of remdesivir.”

Why Did the FDA Revoke the Emergency Use Authorization?

The FDA stated in their announcement: “In light of ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other serious side effects, the known and potential benefits” of hydroxychloroquine no longer outweigh those risks.”

The June 15 announcement comes less than 2 months after the FDA warned patients and caregivers that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have been linked to life-threatening heart rhythm problems. The FDA reiterated this warning in the June 15 announcement, stating that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have been connected to “ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other potential serious side effects.”

March 2020

The EUA was first issued in March 2020 and applied to patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and those in clinical trials. However, in April the FDA warned doctors against prescribing the drug to COVID-19 patients outside of hospitalization and clinical trial conditions.

Since the FDA granted the EUA, researchers have reported that patients treated with the medications have died at a higher rate than those receiving regular treatment for COVID-19.

April 2020

In April 2020, the FDA issued a warning telling patients and caregivers that malaria drugs (such as hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine) have been reported to have serious and life-threatening side effects when used to treat the disease. The announcement also included the warning that patients with other health issues, such as heart and kidney disease, are likely to be at an increased risk of heart problems when taking hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

June 2020

Just prior to the June 15 announcement, research from the University of Minnesota Medical School published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that hydroxychloroquine was no more effective than a placebo at preventing COVID-19 symptoms among people exposed to coronavirus.

This is the first major clinical trial analyzing whether the medication might be useful as a prophylactic. The study focused on 821 people who had been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient—putting those 821 people at an increased risk of developing COVID-19 themselves.

Study participants were sent doses of either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo and asked to take the pills for two weeks. The study was double-blind—neither the study participants nor the researchers knew in advance which people would be getting the real medication.

At the end of the two weeks, there was virtually no difference in who developed COVID-19 symptoms. 12% of those given hydroxychloroquine reported symptoms, compared with 14% of those who were given a placebo.

What is Hydroxychloroquine and What Does It Do?

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug traditionally used to treat malaria and certain autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. However, the FDA’s June 15 announcements do not apply to the drug’s treatment of these conditions.

Hydroxychloroquine first gained attention as a potential COVID-19 treatment in February 2020 when two small studies suggested that it might be useful against the COVID-19 virus.

President Donald Trump encouraged its use, even saying in May 2020 that he took hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19.

How Do I Know If I Have Been Harmed?

Common Side Effects Include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting

Serious Side Effects:

  • Blurred vision or other vision changes (may be permanent in some cases)
  • Heart disease, heart failure, issues with heart rhythm (some cases have been fatal)
  • Ringing in your ears or hearing loss
  • Angioedema (rapid skin swelling)
  • Hives
  • Mild or severe bronchospasm (tightening of muscles that line the lungs’ airways)
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
  • Blue-black skin color
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hair loss or changes in hair color
  • Abnormal mood changes
  • Mental health effects, including suicidal thoughts

Symptoms of Heart Disease, Heart Failure, and Heart Rhythm Issues:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of ankles/feet
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Unusual/sudden weight gain
  • Symptoms of Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

  • Sudden sweating or shaking
  • Hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling hands or feet

How GoldenbergLaw Can Help You

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