Delaware business owners push for reopening at online town hall

DOVER – They’ve deep cleaned and cleared space, educated employees and established thorough safety plans and new strategies.

Struggling business owners say they’re ready to reopen their doors while providing a healthy environment as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Ready as in now.

The proprietors are seeking a firm reopening date for valued customers to resume walking through the door.

A slew of business owners made a collective push to state leaders during Monday afternoon’s latest Recovery Town Hall (focused on Kent County) discussion via Zoom.

The audience peaked at just over 180 participants, many with no current incoming revenue as state-mandated closures threaten their existence.

The forum stretched more than 100 minutes as dentists and barbers, dance and fitness instructors, mini-golf owners, restaurateurs and musicians made their collective case to resume operations.

As in past virtual town halls, officials outlined two phases of reopening businesses and easing restrictions.

Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce President Judy Diogo, who’s spent weeks communicating with stressed members, called on the state’s government and legislators to ease into a slow opening sometime this month at the very least.

Describing the owners as engulfed in a “financial crisis,” Ms. Diogo urged decision-makers not to ignore the pleas to reopen. The state has banded together to support coronavirus victims and there’s significant need to boost Delaware’s economic well-being as well, she said.

Delaware Division of Small Business Director Damian DeStefano offered a glimmer of hope regarding recent positive trends for COVID-19 cases, but yielded to the Division of Public Health for ultimately making the evaluations.

Joined by Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, Mr. DeStefano and Delaware Prosperity Partnership President and CEO Kurt Foreman acknowledged business owners for their detailed planning and diligence.

“Business owners have been doing a lot of serious thinking about how they can safely reopen and be a part of the solution, which is really encouraging,” Mr. DeStefano said after the session.

“As the governor has said, a healthy economy requires a healthy community, so the state’s first consideration is always public safety.

“And given that, we are trying to be mindful of designing a system that allows people to open both effectively and safely.”

Also, Mr. DeStefano said, “The information and feedback gathered at the town halls is being incorporated into the state’s efforts to figure how to safely reopen the economy and give guidance to specific industries on best practices for operating using safe social distancing.

“They’ve been very helpful in giving a sense of where businesses are in their planning process, what info they’ll need, when they’ll need it and how the state can be helping them prepare to open.”

As the first of more than a dozen discussion participants, Amber Roof of Paradise Tans expressed concerns about the need for 14 days of COVID-19 results for reopenings. Mr. Foreman pointed to a broad set of metrics to evaluate the direction that would not be biased by more overall tests being conducted. Rates for new cases, new hospitalizations and positive tests are crucial, he said.

With an industry standard already in place — cleanly conditions — Andrew Dias of Combat Barber in Dover pushed for a first-phase opening and said that throughout the industry, “Our jobs are literally to keep things sanitized.”

While employees may be ready for the resumption, Dr. Heather Boyle of Family Dental Associates conveyed that emergency patients and those seeking continuing care may need more time to feel comfortable returning to an office. Business won’t immediately return to full throttle whenever the opening date comes, she said.

Managing the anxiety and fears of Dover Behavioral Health System was an early concern, CEO Jean-Charles Constant said, but three weeks of constant “over-communication” allayed any doubts, he said.

Phases to reopening

State officials have publicly identified two phases of reopening Delaware’s society and business interests.

The first phase of reopening includes:

• Vulnerable individuals shelter in place.

• Maintaining social distancing in public

• Limit gatherings to 10 individuals

• Minimize non-essential travel – personal and business

• Encourage teleworking

• Return to work in phases

• Consider special accommodations for vulnerable populations of workforce

• Schools and youth activities remain closed

• No visits to senior living facilities and hospitals

• Large venues, restaurants would have strict guidelines

• Elective surgeries to resume

• Gyms to follow strict physical sanitation protocol

• Bars remain closed

The second phase includes:

• Vulnerable individuals shelter in place

• Main social distancing in public

• Limit gatherings to 50 individuals

• Non-essential travel can resume

• Encourage teleworking

• Close common areas at work places

• Consider special accommodations for vulnerable populations of workforce

• Schools and youth activities can reopen

• No visits to senior living facilities or hospitals

• Large venues, restaurants operate under physical distancing protocols

• Elective surgeries to resume

• Gyms to follow strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols

• Bars can open with reduced standing-room occupancy

A northern New Castle County-based town hall was scheduled for later Monday. Meetings will follow on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. (Sussex County focus) and Thursday at 6 p.m. (southern New Castle County). More information is available at de.gov/economy.


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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