Delaware small businesses can open in limited fashion Friday

DOVER — Delaware’s small businesses will be allowed to open with restrictions beginning Friday. Gov. John Carney said Tuesday a variety of businesses can offer curbside pickup, while a few can provide services by appointment only, starting at 8 a.m. that day.

Most entities in the state have been closed or operating under strict limits since March due to the coronavirus.

Officials also said Tuesday Delaware plans to provide COVID-19 testing for every resident or employee of a long-term care center.

In general, retailers — including but not limited to clothing, tobacco and music stores — can provide curbside pickup as long as social distancing is maintained. Other businesses, like jewelry stores, can offer services by appointment only.

Cosmetology services are allowed to operate by appointment but only hair care services and only for workers at essential businesses. Additionally, there can be no more than two appointments at a time or more appointments than available staff, and businesses must reserve 15 minutes between appointments for proper cleaning.

Workers and customers must wear cloth face masks and staff must wear disposable gloves. The door must remain locked to prevent walk-ins, and any item a customer handles, such as a magazine, must be carried out with them.

Anyone who believes he or she has come in contact with the virus should not go out.

It’s unclear how this impacts employees of these businesses, such as whether they must return to work even if they feel unsafe. Asked Tuesday whether workers collecting unemployment benefits because of the shutdown will be ineligible if their employer reopens, Gov. Carney said he did not know, and his office did not immediately clarify what the announcement means for employees.

“I understand how hard this has been for Delawareans across our state. We’ve tried to find ways to ease the pain without compromising public health,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “But even these limited steps allowing businesses to offer additional services will require strict compliance with safety standards, especially social distancing.

“We cannot afford to go backwards and see new cases and hospitalizations spike. Getting used to a new normal won’t be easy, but this is the first step to being able to reopen our economy.”

The Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce praised the move, with President Judy Diogo calling it “important to the overall health of our community” as well as the economy.

Tuesday’s announcement came on the heels of protests and pleas from some Delawareans to loosen restrictions. The House Republican caucus sent a letter to Gov. Carney last week urging him to reopen immediately, and several hundred people gathered outside the capitol Friday to rally against the forced closure of most businesses and other organizations.

Delaware announced its first COVID-19 case March 11. Over the next two weeks, the governor ordered people to stay home except for essential travel and shut down most businesses and nonprofits, including churches.

The result has been “economic carnage,” as Gov. Carney put it Tuesday, with more than 75,000 Delawareans filing for unemployment since March 11. That isn’t unique to the First State, of course: The country has seen about 30.3 million claims over the previous six weeks.

Some states have started reopening in earnest, against the advice of health experts.

Coronavirus cases

As of 6 p.m. Monday, there had been 5,371 coronavirus cases and 187 deaths in Delaware, including 83 cases and five fatalities announced in the most recent daily update. There were 4,575 cases and 137 deaths one week prior, with 2,931 and 82 seven days before that.

The most recent deaths include three women and two men ranging in age from 48 to 101. One was a New Castle County resident, two were Kent County residents and two were Sussex County residents. Four of the five were in long-term care facilities, while one had no underlying health issues.

The Division of Public Health will work with long-term care facilities to put testing protocols in place for patients and staff and will offer recommendations for them based on results.

As of Friday, there had been 322 cases involving such centers, with 102 deaths.

“Residents of long-term care facilities are extremely vulnerable to complications from the virus that causes COVID-19 due to chronic health conditions,” DPH Director Karyl Rattay said in a statement. “We are incredibly pleased to be able to support this testing strategy which will enable us to help the facilities better identify outbreaks among both staff and residents and contain the spread of the disease through a variety of interventions. It is an important component in our rapidly expanding testing strategy.”

During his regular news conference to offer an update on the virus and the state’s status Tuesday, Gov. Carney noted people are getting restless but urged Delawareans to stay the course. The state has made progress in slowing the spread of the virus, but the finish line remains far away.

“My message today is we can’t let up now,” he said. “We’re getting to a good place.”

Delawareans should make an effort to venture out in public half as often as they used to, he said, citing a recommendation from Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the leading experts on the White House’s COVID-19 task force.

Even after more restrictions are lifted, people shouldn’t expect to return to their old way of life, officials have emphasized. Wearing face coverings in public remains mandatory here, and large gatherings will continue to be prohibited for the foreseeable future.

How well Delaware does in following social distancing will determine when it can reopen further, according to officials.

“Social distancing works, and at a time when there is no vaccine and no treatment, social distancing is by far one of our most effective tools,” Dr. Rattay said Tuesday.

For more information on Tuesday’s announcement, visit de.gov/economy.