Governor orders beaches to close, while coronavirus cases climb to 45

DOVER — Gov. John Carney announced today the state will close its beaches to minimize large gatherings as part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The prohibition went into effect at 5 p.m., barring individuals from the beaches except to exercise or walk dogs where permitted. Local governments may enact tighter restrictions if they wish.

The mandate will last until May 15 or whenever the coronavirus threat dissipates.

Many people took advantage of Friday’s warm weather to head to the beaches, crowding together in many places despite expert recommendations to minimize social contact.

Delaware has 45 official cases of coronavirus so far.

Of the Delawareans diagnosed with COVID-19, 32 are from New Castle County, five are from Kent County and eight are from Sussex County. Five are hospitalized, and two are critically ill.

State health officials noted the source of exposure for many of the positive cases is unknown, indicating community spread of the virus is occurring here.

“The presence of community spread shows that we all must take the danger associated with this virus seriously,” Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said in a statement. “For every person infected with COVID-19, they typically infect two to three additional people. That’s why the steps that Governor Carney has taken to close schools, restaurants and bars, recreational facilities and beaches is so important. We need to take these steps to prevent widespread outbreaks and slow the spread of the virus.”

“We need everyone to take this situation seriously. We saw too many people on the beaches yesterday and we weren’t seeing the kind of social distancing that we need in order to slow the spread of coronavirus,” Gov. Carney, who toured beaches on Friday, said in a statement.

“This was a difficult decision, but we need folks to follow the rules to keep all Delawareans safe. Don’t go out in public unnecessarily. Wash your hands and disinfect surfaces frequently. Stay home, especially if you feel sick and even if you have mild symptoms. We will get through this together.”

The official announcement from the state came just hours after several Sussex County municipalities, including Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach and Lewes, closed their beaches.

“Unfortunately, we have seen an influx of people as schools and workplaces have closed,” Lewes City Manager Ann Marie Townsend wrote in an email to residents that was posted on the city’s website. “We wanted to stress to people that everything is closed here and that our healthcare system is prepared to deal with our year-round population’s needs in the midst of the crisis, but not a large influx. If you are considering coming to your second home in Lewes, we ask that you stay home.”

All city-owned parking lots and bathrooms have been closed in Lewes.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, who represents the Rehoboth Beach area, on Friday urged out-of-staters not to flock to their beach homes.

“I’m glad so many visitors love our beaches and want to spend time here. But NOW is possibly the worst time,” he posted on Facebook.

“If you don’t live down here, quite frankly, please return home. These are serious — even dangerous — times, and thousands of visitors coming here and stressing our resources during a crisis like this could have horrible results.

“Please come back when we emerge on the other side of this pandemic, but for right now, please use common sense and stay at your first home.”

In a statement, both Lewes Mayor Ted Becker and Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns praised the governor’s declaration, describing it as necessary for public safety.

Gov. Carney declared a state of emergency March 13. It has the effect of the force of law, with any violation potentially being a criminal offense.

More than 234,000 cases of the virus have been reported globally, with more than 15,000 diagnoses and 200 deaths in the United States as of Friday.

Delawareans with general questions about COVID-19 or their exposure risk can call DPH at 1-866-408-1899 (711 for individuals who are hearing impaired) from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday or email DPHCall@delaware.gov.

For more information, visit de.gov/coronavirus.


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

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.