Carney declares state of emergency

DOVER — Gov. John Carney has declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus, which has now been diagnosed in four people in Delaware.

The declaration, which takes effect at 8 a.m. today, instructs the Delaware Emergency Management Agency and the Division of Public Health to mobilize state agency resources to better respond to the virus. It also directs the Delaware National Guard to help out, allows the state to hold meetings online and bars price gouging.

It will not close schools, businesses or state facilities and does not impose any driving restrictions.

“There are things every Delawarean can do to stay healthy,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “Wash your hands. Cover your cough. Stay home from work or school if you are sick. It’s especially important for at-risk populations, specifically elderly Delawareans, to avoid large gatherings.
“And we’re advising Delaware organizations to cancel large, non-essential public events to prevent community spread of the coronavirus. We will continue to respond aggressively to this situation in close coordination with state and federal public health experts.”

In order to prevent community spread, the state is calling for people to cancel non-essential gatherings of at least 100 individuals.

Delaware health officials have been preparing for an outbreak for two months, according to the governor.

Three more cases were announced in Delaware Thursday, one day after the first positive diagnosis was revealed. Most American states have now seen confirmed cases, with 36 deaths resulting, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The impact has hit the country hard: The White House announced travel restrictions on many European countries Wednesday night, around the same time the NBA said it would be suspending its season.

Locally, the University of Delaware, where the state’s first confirmed case originated, is moving to online classes for the rest of the semester and suspending courses for the remainder of the week. Spring break, originally scheduled to begin March 27, will now start Saturday. Students will be allowed to stay in their dorms during the break, and dining halls will offer meals, the university said.

Classes will resume — online — on March 23.

UD had previously announced fans would not be allowed to attend the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association basketball tournament at the Bob Carpenter Center, prompting the games to be moved to area high schools, and suspended classes for its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
Other events on campus are being evaluated to determine whether they should be canceled, postponed or offered online, the university said. Sports, including practices, have been canceled.

Delaware State University also intends to utilize online courses and is instructing students who are currently on spring break not to return until April 5. Students who can go home should do so by the weekend, the university said.

All large events scheduled to take place at DSU through April 5 are canceled.

More information on the universities is available at https://www.udel.edu/home/coronavirus/ and https://www.desu.edu/student-life/student-health-services/coronavirus.

Wilmington University moved all in-person classes to online beginning this upcoming Monday, though university offices and services remain open.
In a letter released to the campus community Thursday, Wesley College announced it will continue normal operations and “follow our academic and athletic schedules as posted” but will consider contingency plans in case the situation worsens.

Public schools
For the most part, Delaware’s school districts plan to remain open but will limit student and staff travel in areas “that are a focus of infection as defined by the CDC Travel Health Notices.” School districts were beginning to postpone and restrict extracurricular and sporting events as of late Thursday.

“The overall intent of the (pandemic preparedness) plan is, as additional cases are confirmed and brought closer and closer to our school district, we would take a harder stance on keeping our students safe,” Capital Superintendent Dan Shelton said at a school board meeting Wednesday night.

Laurel School District closed schools Thursday and today, while St. Andrew’s School in Middletown announced a move to virtual instruction following the conclusion of spring break on March 23. Appoquinimink, Caesar Rodney, Indian River and Capital school districts are among those canceling out-of-state travel and numerous events.

“For instances like we have had so far with Laurel, Great Oaks and Kuumba closing for a couple of days against the guidance of Public Health, the schools will either make up the hours or may already have enough hours built into their schedules since we have had a mild winter,” Department of Education spokeswoman Alison May wrote in an email Thursday. “If we get to the point where schools need to close for extended periods of time, then we’ll be looking at options.”

Maryland is closing schools through March 27 and banning gatherings of more than 250 people.

Should Delaware see large-scale closures, districts likely will not be able to turn to online courses the way UD and DSU are.

“There are concerns with moving to a mandatory online delivery model because many students do not have access to computers or the internet at home,” Ms. May said. “The state thus is not recommending a complete online model.”

Providing food for students is another concern being discussed right now, according to Dr. Shelton.

For preventative measures, Capital School District purchased the recommended disinfectant and 200 spray bottles to deliver to bus contractors.

State government
The virus has touched all three branches of government: The General Assembly said Thursday it will not meet next week, while the courts are urging people not to come to a scheduled hearing or trial if they feel sick.
People who have business in a state court, whether they are representing a client or appearing for jury duty, should inform the courts if they have symptoms. The judiciary is encouraging people to communicate remotely instead of in person if possible.

Both full-time and casual/seasonal state employees may receive up to 30 days of special emergency leave if they are directly impacted by the virus. Direct impact includes being personally sickened or having a workplace facility close due to an outbreak.

Employees indirectly impacted by things like school closures can get up to 14 days of emergency leave.

This policy aims to prevent workers from being forced to use regular sick time, which may not be sufficient.

Additionally, copays for COVID-19 testing will be temporarily waived for individuals on the state health care plan who require testing.

Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro on Tuesday sent a notice to insurers that coronavirus testing is a necessary benefit required to be covered by private health care plans.

The Department of Correction temporarily suspended visitation in its facilities due to the virus. The Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, which houses approximately 100 juveniles, is doing the same.

The Department of Health and Social Services is recommending all Delaware nursing homes, long-term care facilities and adult day-care centers temporarily end visitation to reduce the risk of the virus, which is especially acute in the elderly.

Long-term care facilities should promote electronic communication, monitor staff to see if they have symptoms like fever, coughing or shortness of breath, make hand sanitizer, tissues and face masks readily available and keep the centers clean.

And the impact doesn’t stop there.

After initially being moved from UD to area high schools, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association basketball championship games were canceled.

Each Unified finalist will be named a co-champion. The remaining four schools in both the girls and boys championships each will receive a Final Four trophy, and no champion will be declared.

Beebe Healthcare is instituting restrictions, limiting each patient to two designated visitors. Identified essential visitors will be screened upon arrival to the hospital and may not be able to enter if they are deemed potentially infectious. Children 16 and under will not be allowed to visit.

Peninsula Regional Health System, which operates Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Seaford and others, also announced an enhanced COVID-19 Patient Safety and Visitation Policy. Foremost in its plan: if you’re not feeling well or if you don’t have to visit, don’t visit.

Restrictions, effective March 13, included no visitors under the age of 18 unless they are parents of hospitalized children; one visitor per patient; only one person may accompany a patient into the hospital or into any of PRHS’s physician offices or immediate care centers and required check-ins for visitors at the front desk with possible screenings for flu-like symptoms.

The Delaware Republican Party convention scheduled for the last weekend in April has been postponed because the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center where it was to be held is closing until at least May. If it reopens by then, the event will take place May 15 and 16.

Kay Sass, director of public affairs and emergency services for Dover, said the city is taking steps to reduce exposure among both the community and city staff.

“With our staff we are encouraging hand washing frequently and disinfecting areas,” Ms. Sass said. “We hope the public opts to watch Dover City Council meetings on our TV feed rather than come to City Hall because that will limit any potential exposure to the virus.

“I would also encourage the public to utilize the city of Dover’s website for bill payments because that will help limit exposure, as well. As a staff we will be delaying some non-life safety inspections.”

Businesses are urged to let employees work from home as much as possible and to adopt generous sick leave policies.

The White House said Wednesday about $4.6 million has been awarded to Delaware to help it respond to the situation.

For the latest on Delaware’s response, visit de.gov/coronavirus or contact the Division of Public Health at 1-866-408-1899, 1-800-232-5460 (TTY) or DPHCall@delaware.gov.

Reporter Brooke Schultz contributed to this story.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage

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