State announces more guidelines for June 1 reopening despite uptick in COVID-19 deaths

DOVER — Delaware unveiled new guidelines Friday for the first phase of the reopening process, which is scheduled to begin June 1. The announcement came just two hours after the Division of Public Health said 11 more Delawareans have died from COVID-19, bringing that total to 271.

Forty-six people here died due to complications related to the virus from Monday to Thursday, marking the worst four-day stretch so far.

As of 6 p.m. Thursday, there had been 7,373 total cases, an increase of 150 from the prior day, according to DPH. The agency said 269 people were hospitalized, with 59 critically ill, while 3,210 Delawareans have recovered, meaning they’ve gone a week without symptoms.

Delaware’s first official coronavirus case was announced March 11. There were 6,315 cases and 213 deaths one week ago.

As of April 16, four weeks before the latest data, there were 2,202 cases and 52 deaths.

Despite the jump in fatalities — the count has doubled over the past 17 days — the state is moving toward reopening. Public pressure has increased, as business owners, Republican lawmakers and regular citizens have called on the governor (some more forcefully than others) to lift the restrictions imposed over the past two-plus months.

Delaware allowed retail outlets to open in limited fashion last week and this week said the beaches can reopen May 22. Gov. John Carney, who has maintained the process will be guided by science, has set the state of emergency to end come June.

But even then, individuals should not expect things to go back to where they were a few months ago. People still must cover their faces in public and practice social distancing, with large gatherings remaining prohibited. At-risk individuals are urged to remain home, and non-essential travel should be minimized.

Out-of-state visitors are subject to a 14-day quarantine upon entering the state, a restriction state troopers will enforce with extra caution over Memorial Day weekend so only Delawareans can access the beaches, officials said.

Under the first step of the three-phase reopening, businesses will generally have to limit capacity to 30 percent of max occupancy, clean surfaces many times a day and provide hand sanitizer or handwashing stations for workers and customers.

They should allow employees to work from home whenever possible, and individuals who must come to work must undergo a daily health check.
Different fields have additional requirements as well. For more information on the specific industry guidelines, visit https://bit.ly/2WxZKNk or email covid19faq@delaware.gov.

Among the businesses not allowed to open yet (with limited exceptions) are summer camps, tattoo parlors, nail salons, spas, convention centers, arcades, bowling alleys and indoor children’s play areas.

Houses of worship are still open, although only for gatherings of no more than 10, Gov. Carney said. He has spoken to several religious leaders this week and is working to develop guidelines for churches and similar venues, which will be released next week.

While key metrics like new hospital admissions and percentage of people who test positive for the virus are trending down, officials caution the state has a long way to go. Life can’t truly return to normal until there is a vaccine, which could easily not be available until 2021.

“We all have to continue to behave like we have the virus,” DPH Director Karyl Rattay said Friday.

The state is mostly relying on voluntary compliance, hoping to educate people rather than fine or arrest them for failing to social distance.

Gov. Carney admitted officials are sending what could be perceived as contradictory signals in loosening restrictions while instructing people to largely keep living as they have since March, with limited contact with others.

“It’s a bit of a mixed message. Now’s not the time to go wild and run to the beach,” he said.

Polls indicate some people are letting up on social distancing and other precautions, Gov. Carney said, noting Sussex County has seen compliance issues despite having the highest concentration of cases in the state. About 48 percent of the cases and 40 percent of the deaths have involved residents of Sussex County, even though the southernmost county has just 24 percent of the state’s population.

Many people have urged him to reopen the state even as some have urged him to go slower, the governor said, expressing a desire to balance public health with the state’s economic strength.

“It would be a shame, all the pain that we’ve experienced over the last 10 weeks, to lose ground by getting a little bit sloppy,” Gov. Carney said.

The state has been collecting feedback from people throughout Delaware through virtual town halls and other methods in recent weeks, with many business owners and leaders saying they are in danger of going under if the shutdown continues.

According to the governor’s office, a disproportionate share of the comments came from Sussex, in particular the eastern part of the county. That’s perhaps due to how important summer tourism is to coastal municipalities like Rehoboth Beach.

As part of the reopening process, Delaware is unveiling large-scale testing and contact tracing programs. The state recently purchased 200,000 saliva-based tests from a company in California for about $30 million, hoping to greatly increase its testing capabilities.

Meanwhile, officials plan to hire around 200 people to help identify potential contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19.

The goal is to allow society to slowly take steps toward the new normal while limiting the chances of another outbreak.

“It’s a trade-off. Right now, we’re accomplishing the goal of limiting the spread by widespread shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, the blunt instrument of those mechanisms, which people are saying they don’t like,” Gov. Carney said.

“The virus isn’t going away. We’ve flattened the curve, we’ve reduced the spread … but now we’re going to reopen things.

“The trade-off is, in order to bring that economy back and have a strong economy again, have people go to work, earn wages and all the rest of that, you have to have another way to manage the public health side of that, to manage the spread of the virus. … Instead of isolating the whole community with the stay-at-home and the shutdowns, we’re trying to isolate the individuals who are COVID-19 positive.

“That’s the trade-off. It’s not an option to say ‘OK, everybody’s on their own now.’”


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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