House Republicans urge Carney to reopen state

DOVER — House Republicans have joined the chorus of voices officially calling for Gov. John Carney to reopen the state.

In a letter sent to the governor Thursday, all 15 members of the caucus urged him to lift the state of emergency that has been in place since March 13 and allow people to return to work.

“Our citizens, small business operators, and non-profit groups cannot afford to remain in forced stasis indefinitely. The clock is quickly running out,” they wrote in the three-page letter.

“For many, it is already too late. Some business owners will never reopen their doors, with the jobs they provided permanently lost. Our economy is likely to emerge from this shutdown under recessionary conditions and it will take months for momentum to build and for the public to be willing and capable of engaging in commerce anywhere near pre-pandemic levels.

“We need to restart our economy now in a way that responsibly manages risk; allows businesses to resume operations under protocols to curtail the spread of the virus; and provides our citizens and businesses with a predictable path forward that allows them to make plans on which they can act.

“This need not be a binary decision. We can continue to take action to mitigate the spread of the virus; institute aggressive steps to protect those groups most at risk from severe consequences of infection; and allow citizens and businesses to return to work in a responsible manner.

“Delawareans are desperate for action.”

Delaware announced its first coronavirus case March 11 and moved to prevent public gatherings and close most businesses over the next two weeks. Most companies here have been shut down since mid-March, and even the ones that are open are operating are under restrictions, such as requiring customers to wear face coverings and providing masks for employees. Restaurants can only serve take out, while outlets like car dealerships and gun shops can only see customers by appointment.

In accordance with guidelines from the White House, Gov. Carney has said he wants to see 14 consecutive days with decreases in the percentage of positive tests before making any moves. (He initially cited two weeks of day-over-day decreases in the number of positive cases but later clarified.)

“Governor Carney will continue to be guided by science. No one wants to reopen our economy more than he does. The Governor has been clear with legislators and with the public that we still face a very serious situation with COVID-19, especially in Sussex County,” a spokesman said Thursday.

“Governor Carney will remain in close communication with members of the General Assembly – both Republicans and Democrats. We need all legislators to stay engaged in this fight against COVID-19.”

So far, the state has seen 4,734 confirmed coronavirus cases and 152 deaths. The case total has doubled over the past 12 days, while the death toll has seen an even larger increase in terms of percentage.

With 159 new cases, the past two days represent the smallest increase announced in almost two weeks, although that respite is not expected to last. As of Monday, Delaware was expected to hit 6,000 cases by the weekend.

In the letter Thursday, members of the House GOP caucus said they supported the governor’s initial restrictions but now must speak out.

“While COVID-19 poses a significant public health concern, the efforts to curtail its spread have created their own problems that are just as alarming,” they wrote. “Each of us has been in contact with hundreds of anxious citizens, small business owners, and non-profit organizations that have all but exhausted their resources.

“More than 75,000 Delawareans have filed for unemployment benefits since March 15th. Many have yet to receive their first check.

“Thousands of additional independent contractors and self-employed individuals will not even be able to apply for such benefits until May 11. Vast numbers of Delaware businesses, even those allowed to operate under the State of Emergency, are struggling to stay viable.”

Public stress has spiked, as many people worry about making ends meet or staying healthy.

The solution, the Republicans wrote, should come not in the form of government aid but in a revitalized economy.

“Reengaging Delaware’s economy needs to be a top consideration, yet your re-start plan lacks any sense of urgency or predictability,” the letter states. “It calls for three conditions to be met before the three-phase plan can even begin: ‘a 14-day decline in the percentage of positive cases; the ability to treat COVID-19 patients in hospitals without crisis care; and extensive testing programs for health care workers.’

“The first condition is the most troubling. Your administration has prioritized increased testing, especially in hot spot areas. This will lead to the discovery of more cases. This is a flawed metric on which to base the recovery since a higher case rate is a function of expanded detection, not an increased threat to public health.”

Delaware is working in concert with a group of other states in the region, including several of its neighbors, to develop a coordinated plan and keep policies consistent in recognition of the fact much of the East Coast has “one integrated regional economy,” per a release announcing the partnership last month.

Americans are divided on COVID-19 in large part by political ideology, as shown by many polls. Generally, individuals who take their cues from President Donald Trump and the GOP have been more supportive of the federal government’s handling and more eager to reopen.

A Pew Research Center survey from late March said 39 percent of Republicans thought people were overreacting to the virus, compared to 25 percent of Democrats. On the flip side, the same poll found 48 percent of Democrats said people aren’t treating the virus as a serious threat, with 31 percent of Republicans saying the same.

A poll from the University of Delaware last month reported liberals are more likely than conservatives to engage in social distancing and other protective measures.

But there may be consensus against attempting to return to normalcy at this point: A survey conducted by The Marist Poll, NPR and PBS from April 21-26 found 65 percent of adults do not support having people return to work without the ability to do greater testing. Eighty-four percent of Democrats felt this way, compared to 47 percent of Republicans.

Nationally and locally, health experts say society is not where it needs to be in terms of having enough testing and supplies. Doctors and scientists have warned reopening too soon risks another outbreak, despite the fact some states have already begun removing restrictions.

In an interview with NBC Thursday, White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci urged governors to wait for a 14-day decline and only open in full once they are capable of testing and tracking cases. He also expressed hope the country can mass produce a vaccine by January.

Some Delawareans have been very vocal about their frustration, with a protest against the restrictions planned for today at the state capitol. President Trump has encouraged protests in some states with Democratic governors, even as he has flip-flopped on the seriousness of the virus threat and what should be done.

In Delaware, the 15 members of the House Republican caucus are among those who feel urgent action is needed. The members, all of whom signed the letter, are Minority Leader Danny Short (Georgetown), Minority Whip Tim Dukes (Laurel), Kevin Hensley (Odessa), Jeff Spiegelman (Clayton), Steve Smyk (Milton), Mike Ramone (Pike Creek Valley), Michael Smith (Newark), Shannon Morris (Wyoming), Charles Postles (Milford), Lyndon Yearick (Camden), Jesse Vanderwende (Lincoln), Bryan Shupe (Milford), Ruth Briggs King (Georgetown), Ron Gray (Selbyville) and Rich Collins (Millsboro).

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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