State officials eye piece of county coronavirus relief funds

DOVER — Delaware officials have received more than $927 million in federal coronavirus relief fund assistance, but they are also looking to get a slice of the roughly $323 million going directly to the state’s largest county.

Gov. John Carney noted Friday that the cost of the state’s coronavirus response efforts could easily exceed its federal coronavirus aid.

Administration officials indicated that they believe the state should get a portion of the money going to New Castle County. Under the coronavirus relief package, any local government with a population exceeding 500,000 can apply directly for a portion of a state’s allocation. Delaware was approved for a total of $1.25 billion, but the county is eligible to directly receive $322.8 million of that total.

Carney’s budget director, Michael Jackson, said the amount going to the county is roughly equal to its entire general operating budget, plus its water and sewer budgets.

Meanwhile, according to Jackson, the additional financial burden to the state’s unemployment insurance fund because of virus-related job losses could range as high as $400 million. Direct response costs, including testing and contact tracing, could exceed $500 million, while assistance for essential child care providers could cost up to $180 million. Rent and utility assistance programs, along with a hospital emergency loan program, could cost up to $55 million, Jackson said.

“We do need to engage with New Castle County with respect to the shared costs,” Carney said.

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said in a prepared statement only that he is willing to work with state officials.

“We are committed to working with the state to ensure our economy and health system remains strong as we address the pandemic,” Meyer said. “We continue to work collectively to help those most impacted and hurt by this unprecedented event.”

State Health Officer Dr. Karyl Rattay said testing of staff at Delaware’s long-term care facilities will become mandatory on June 1, and that staff testing will be done weekly.

Carney earlier this month had announced a universal testing program for all residents and staff in long-term care facilities, but the program was voluntary. Many facilities initially balked at the idea, with Rattay noting earlier this week that only about 15% had started testing, a response she described as “disappointing.”

As of Thursday, state officials said 8,529 had tested positive for COVID-19, and that 322 had died. Residents of long-term care facilities accounted for 607 COVID-19 cases, roughly 7% of the total, but 208 deaths, almost two-thirds of fatalities.

Most people infected by the coronavirus have mild or moderate symptoms, such as cough and fever, that clear up in two or three weeks.
But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness, or death. In Delaware, people 65 and older account for 19% of COVID-19 cases, but 79% of COVID-related deaths.

Meanwhile, a federal judge on Friday scheduled a May 28 hearing in lawsuit filed against Carney by a well-known Wilmington pastor and community activist.

The Rev. Dr. Christopher Allan Bullock claims that Carney restrictions on worship services are unconstitutional and discriminatory.
Bullock is seeking an injunction opening up worship services effective May 31.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday, one day after Carney announced that churches, which he had limited to services involving no more than 10 staff and participants, would be allowed to hold services with crowds limited to no more than 30% of stated fire occupancy. But Carney also imposed a host of conditions and restrictions, including limiting services to no more than one hour, banning choirs, prohibiting person-to-person administration of Communion and banning communal receptacles for congregants to bless themselves with holy water.

Carney on Friday said religious leaders with whom he has spoken have agreed that protecting the physical health of congregants is as important as protecting their spiritual health.

“We’ve always considered place of worship essential. We just think folks ought to do it safely,” he said.

At the same time, Carney appeared to express misgivings about the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington’s decision to allow parishes in Delaware to resume daily Mass on June 1 and Sunday Mass on June 7.

Carney said that while the resumption of daily Mass will make his mother happy, “I’m not going to really encourage her to do that quite yet.”

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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