Republicans to Carney: “Enough is enough,” reopen this week

DOVER — The chorus calling for Delaware to reopen almost immediately and with few restrictions continues to grow, as do the simmering tensions.

Fifteen of the General Assembly’s 24 Republican lawmakers on Tuesday sent a letter to Gov. John Carney urging him to lift limitations and open the state by Friday instead of June 1. Meanwhile, three legislators who signed onto the letter also sent a message to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking him to investigate “broad, unconstitutional overreaching by the governor of Delaware and the wholesale violation of the important rights guaranteed” to every American.

“We write today with extreme concern over the impact of the decisions that have been made so far by your administration in an attempt to combat the coronavirus,” the 15 lawmakers wrote to Gov. Carney. “We have watched as your administration favored large and powerful business interests over our local merchants.

“We have seen businesses shut down and their owners threatened with criminal charges. And we have listened as mixed messages and confusion have caused panic and fear to spread far and wide.

“We have fought tirelessly behind the scenes to impact the decisions you have made, largely because we believed that we needed to all be on the same team in combating this virus. Unfortunately, our concerns have not been heeded and our suggestions have been adopted too late, if at all. It is time to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Separately, Sens. Brian Pettyjohn and Dave Wilson and Rep. Ruth Briggs King, in their letter to the federal Department of Justice, alleged violations of seven amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Among the complaints cited in the letter are the closure of the state courts, the implementation of a contact tracing system “in violation of the privacy guarantees of the Constitution” and other federal laws and strict rules around where people can go in public — measures the three legislators described as “draconian,” having “usurped the authority of the citizens” and unsupported “by a rational connection or nexus to the proclaimed state of emergency.”

“With no current checks on the governor’s actions, it is imperative for us to ensure that the rights of Delawareans are being upheld and provide an opportunity for relief in instances where rights are being infringed upon,” Sen. Pettyjohn said in a statement.

A state of emergency, which Gov. Carney declared more than two months ago, gives the chief executive temporary extraordinary powers.

In the letter to the governor, lawmakers painted the recent steps toward resuming pre-COVID life as far from sufficient. Businesses, most of which have been closed or operating in very limited fashion for the past two months, are suffering, the legislators, including both minority leaders and the House minority whip, wrote.

While many retail establishments have been allowed to do curbside pickup recently and the state aims to allow greater reopening come June 1, Republicans want to see more drastic steps.

Sooner reopening

Reopening should begin this week so businesses, especially those along the ocean beaches, can benefit from Memorial Day weekend tourism, they wrote. The letter also calls on removing the restrictions on short-term rentals and the two-week quarantine required for people entering Delaware from another state.

Although the governor announced Monday religious establishments can operate with strict limits, such as no more than 30 percent capacity and continued social distancing, that’s not enough for the letter writers, who want to see churches given more freedom.

Daycares and children’s activities like sports should be allowed to open as well, they wrote, noting children are at less risk from the virus and transmission can be less likely outside.

The lawmakers recommended the governor audit the data the state has been collecting on COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths because “many doubts and concerns … have been raised anecdotally about the quality of the data” and “there is a great deal of chatter in the medical community about deaths being classified as COVID-19 that perhaps should not be.”

Delaware has successfully flattened the curve, limiting the spread of the coronavirus, and now society should be allowed to return to daily life, the Republicans wrote.

“We have decisions over the future of thousands of Delaware small businesses being made by a group of people who have little to no experience running a business, and to no one’s surprise, the results have been disastrous,” the letter says. “The state needs to adopt a new decision framework – one that prioritizes opening those businesses that can be opened.

“Our small businesses know how to operate safely. They know that the ultimate judge of their success will be public confidence. They just want a fair playing field in order to compete. It’s time to give them the chance to do so. It’s time to trust Delawareans to know what is best, and to act accordingly.”

The 15 members of the House GOP caucus sent a similar letter about three weeks ago.

Virus numbers

The First State has seen a steep drop in new hospitalizations, and the number of new positive tests is trending down. However, the number of deaths has increased by nearly a third over the past week.

As of the latest update, Delaware has surpassed 8,000 COVID-19 cases and 300 deaths. The Division of Public Health announced 168 new cases and seven additional deaths on Tuesday, bringing the respective totals to 8,037 and 304.

Two hundred thirty-six people are hospitalized, DPH said, while 3,760 Delawareans have recovered, meaning they’ve gone a week without symptoms.

Delaware’s first official coronavirus case was announced March 11.

About 0.84 percent of Delawareans, or 84 people for every 10,000 residents, have tested positive for the virus (though only a fraction of Delawareans have been tested).

New retail rules

Around the same time the letter was released Tuesday, the state announced it is removing some stipulations for companies, nonprofits and other entities.

Retail outlets can function by appointment only starting Wednesday, while restaurants and similar places can apply to expand outdoor seating beginning Friday. More specifics on requirements for businesses are available at de.gov/economy.

‘Disappointing and disturbing’

Asked Tuesday about the GOP communication addressed to him, the governor, normally even-keeled, did not hide his frustration.

“For a letter like that with the obvious political language and the divisive tone to it, and just the inaccuracies, is just very disappointing and disturbing,” he said during a news conference Tuesday offering an update on COVID-19.

Describing himself as blindsided by the note, Gov. Carney said the message was “over the line.”

While the governor did not specifically address the request to the attorney general, a spokesman for Gov. Carney said his comments applied to both letters.

No guarantees

Though the letter writers seem confident things will mostly return to normal should the government mandates be removed, that’s far from a guarantee. Public health experts have warned the country faces a risk of another serious outbreak should it reopen too soon or without the proper protections, and polls indicate many Americans are worried about rushing the process.

A Pew Research Center survey from late April and early May said 68 percent of respondents were more concerned about restrictions being lifted too quickly than too slowly, although a big divide between Democrats and Republicans was present. Even limited specifically to people who lost a job or took a pay cut as a result of the virus, 68 percent expressed greater worry about speeding the process up too much.

Even in states where restrictions have been loosened or waived, businesses are finding many people are unwilling to venture out in public like they used to, with eateries remaining well below capacity.

The 15 members of the GOP who signed the letter to the governor include five senators and 10 representatives. The senators are Minority Leader Gerald Hocker (Ocean View), Dave Lawson (Marydel), Brian Pettyjohn (Georgetown), Bryant Richardson (Seaford) and Dave Wilson (Lincoln). The members of the House are Minority Leader Danny Short (Seaford), Minority Whip Tim Dukes (Laurel), Rich Collins (Millsboro), Ron Gray (Selbyville), Ruth Briggs King (Georgetown), Shannon Morris (Camden-Wyoming), Charles Postles (Milford), Jeff Spiegelman (Clayton), Jesse Vanderwende (Bridgeville) and Lyndon Yearick (Camden).

Rep. Briggs King and Sens. Pettyjohn and Wilson also sent the letter to Attorney General Barr.


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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