Carney urges patience on reopening in Delaware, warns of grim budget outlook

DOVER — Delaware may take gradual steps toward reopening in the near future, but it’s going to take a long time before things come close to normalcy again, Gov. John Carney said Tuesday.

Based on guidance from the White House, the state wants to see 28 consecutive days of declining cases before ramping the process up a notch. Delaware does not currently have the testing capabilities or equipment to move forward in that process, according to the governor.

Providing an update on the COVID-19 outbreak Tuesday, Gov. Carney highlighted the virus’ impact on the state’s budget and urged Delawareans to be patient while offering a glimpse at his thinking.

Officials will speak to many Delawareans across various fields as they weigh their next steps, the governor pledged. At the same time, he’s emphasized he plans to take a deliberate approach based on scientific data and putting public health first.

“I don’t want to reopen the economy a day too soon and I don’t want to delay it a day longer if I can avoid it,” Gov. Carney said. “I want everyone to understand the science around the decision making.”

He said he understands the frustration felt by some residents but will not be swayed by protests like the one planned in front of Legislative Hall May 1.

As of Monday evening, there were 2,931 total laboratory-confirmed cases in Delaware, with 82 deaths. The state is projected to surpass 4,000 cases by the weekend, according to a chart presented by the governor.

Hospitals remain below maximum capacity, Gov. Carney said.

Even when the state does open and Delawareans can leave their homes, there will be restrictions. People will have to practice good hygiene and distancing, and the state is considering making it mandatory to wear face coverings when out in public, Gov. Carney noted. States such as Maryland and New Jersey have recently adopted that practice.

As a result of the outbreak and resulting shutdown, Delaware has seen a record number of unemployment claims — almost 62,000, which nearly equals the combined total from the previous two-year period, according to Labor Secretary Cerron Cade.

Sixty five percent of people who applied for help have received benefits, Mr. Cade said, noting around 20 percent of applicants aren’t eligible.

The state paid more than $30 million in unemployment benefits last week, compared to around $1.5 million to $3 million in a typical week.

Mr. Cade said the agency expects to have a new system ready in two to three weeks to handle claims from self-employed individuals and independent contractors, an area it did not handle previously.

The myriad claims have overwhelmed the agency, which has brought in extra help to respond to calls and emails. Delawareans who have submitted a claim are urged to be patient — if the department has questions or requires more information, it will reach out. Individuals should email rather than call for a faster response.

To get more information, people can text “uifacts” to 555-888, call 761-8446, email uiclaims@delaware.gov or visit ui.delawareworks.com.

Although it may not be something the average Delawarean thinks about, the COVID-19 outbreak has also wreaked havoc on the state’s budget. The panel that provides the state’s official financial projections on Monday predicted the state’s revenues will drop by $785 million over two fiscal years.

The operating budget for the fiscal year ending in June is about $4.45 billion.

At the beginning of 2020, the state was in a good financial situation. But, just as during the Great Recession, slightly more than a decade ago, it doesn’t take long for the bottom to drop out.

While the sky isn’t quite falling (the state has $126 million in a reserve account exactly for situations like these), Delaware will have to make some tough cuts to close the gap. As Office of Management and Budget Director Mike Jackson put it, officials have a “two-pronged challenge” of not only balancing the projected budget for next year but figuring out a way to fund the remaining 10 weeks of this fiscal year.

The income tax filing deadline alone being moved from April to July means the state is expected to have about $223 million less for this fiscal year.

“There’s not a lot of room to maneuver when you’re losing that kind of revenue,” the governor said.

Asked if he was considering cutting state employee pay or furloughing workers to help make up for the shortfall, Gov. Carney said he hopes to protect state workers. There are no active discussions about taking that action, he replied, although he did caution the state will “take whatever measures are necessary to close the gap.”


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
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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