Few answers in first Delaware business recovery forum

DOVER — The first of the state’s virtual town halls aimed at resolving issues before reopening saw hundreds of participants.

Announced last week by Gov. John Carney, the event is part of a series of virtual forums intended to help state officials as Delaware hopefully begins to move toward recovery from COVID-19. While the state still has a ways to go before it can reopen in earnest — based on guidance from the White House, Gov. Carney wants to see 28 days of declining cases and more robust testing — officials are preparing now.

Myriad questions remain, as demonstrated during Monday’s call. Hosted on Zoom by the Division of Small Business and the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the town hall saw business owners in eastern Sussex County raise concerns about timing, public safety, what the government can do to help and more. State officials have few concrete answers at this point, with the forums intended to help them tackle the most pressing issues Delaware businesses are facing.

“This has been a trying time for everyone. My heart hurts for every family that has lost a loved one, every parent struggling to make ends meet, and every business owner whose business is on the brink,” Gov. Carney wrote in a letter to the business community last week. “There are intangible costs to this crisis as well – in the canceled birthday party, the missed family dinners, postponed funerals, the high school sports career cut short, and the loss of human contact.

Gov. Carney was not part of Monday’s Zoom meeting.

“What I can tell you is that I know how hard this is, and we are working night and day to bring it to an end as quickly as possible. Thanks for your patience, and for doing your part.”

Even when businesses do open, it won’t be life as before: Social distancing will remain in place for a time, and people may need to wear masks. As noted by state Rep. Bryan Shupe, who owns two small businesses, the public will probably need reassurances even after restrictions are officially lifted.

“It’s not just a one-way street. A lot of people are still going to want to stay at home unless you’re ready and they know you have their safety in mind,” the Milford Republican said Monday.

Other business owners agreed, with some pointing out the steps they are taking to keep their stores clean.

One person asked how coronavirus will impact tourism, a major industry for the state. That is still unclear, but beach communities figure to see a hit of some kind at the very least this spring and summer.

Reopening will be done cautiously, officials emphasized again Monday, stressing the desire to avoid another outbreak.

“I think all of you are pointing out the key reason we’re doing this now. We know you need some time to do whatever this dance is,” said Kurt Foreman, who runs the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, a public-private collaboration that serves as one of the state’s main economic development tools.

Nothing unexpected was discussed during the hourlong meeting, which saw slightly more than 300 participants at its peak. Questions reflected those asked by the media to the governor during his twice-weekly press briefings and citizens during Facebook Live events held by state agencies.

More town halls will be held in the upcoming days and weeks, with each focusing on a specific region of the state.

Small business forums will take place today at 6 p.m. (southern New Castle), Thursday at 10 a.m. (western Sussex), Thursday at 6 p.m. (western New Castle), Monday at 2 p.m. (Kent), May 5 at 6 p.m. (Wilmington) and May 6 at 6 p.m. (northern New Castle). More general ones, moderated by Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long, will be Wednesday at 6 p.m. (Kent), Monday at 6 p.m. (northern New Castle), May 6 at 7:30 p.m. (Sussex) and May 7 at 6 p.m. (southern New Castle).

For more information, visit https://governor.delaware.gov/delawares-recovery/

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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