Sussex County, towns tell out-of-staters to stay home

This sign on Cape Henlopen Drive in Lewes presents a warning. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

“Stay home … or self-quarantine.”

That was the order this week from Gov. John Carney and it’s the consensus from municipalities in downstate Delaware, whose leaders are echoing the governor’s mandate and Sussex County Council President Michael Vincent’s follow-up plea urging out-of-staters to stay home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To our out-of-state guests and second-home owners, we appreciate your interest and business here in Sussex County. It is the lifeblood of our tourism economy,” said Mr. Vincent in a post on Sussex County government’s Facebook site. “But now is not the time to visit. And this is not the time for a mini-vacation at your beach house.”

Gov. John Carney’s seventh modification to his State of Emergency declaration, effective March 30, orders anyone who enters Delaware from another state to immediately self-quarantine for 14 days.

In southern Delaware beach towns, presence of out-of-staters is far more prevalent.

In a CodeRED message on the city of Rehoboth’s website, Rehoboth City Manager Sharon Lynn reiterated that the governor’s “order has the force and effect of law. Any failure to comply with the provisions contained in a Declaration of a State of Emergency or any modification to a Declaration of the State of Emergency constitutes a criminal offense. City of Rehoboth Beach law enforcement may conduct traffic stops – limited in scope to public health and quarantine questions – on vehicles registered in other states.”

As of early Tuesday afternoon, Rehoboth Beach Police Department had not yet taken any enforcement action against out-of-staters.

A traffic sign on Kings Highway in Lewes encourages people to stay home. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

“We haven’t made any arrests to this point. That’s not saying that we won’t. We just have not been put in a situation where we have,” said Rehoboth Beach Police spokesman Lt. Jaime Riddle. “All of the various means of conducting these investigations and taking enforcement action, they are all open to the table, whether it is investigative stops, whether it’s contacting people, and eventually if it comes down to it, taking enforcement action. All those things are on the table.”

“Obviously, being the police department, one of our primary missions is to safeguard the lives and the property of the people, and the citizens of Rehoboth Beach. So that is what our mission is. And that’s what we are going to do,” Lt. Riddle said. “We repeatedly ask for people to do their part. Stay at home. Let’s end this thing as fast as we possibly can, because everybody’s families are being affected. People’s livelihoods are being affected. People’s businesses are being affected. I think the sooner that we take this seriously as a community we can get back to normal life and those businesses can get back to making money and families can be less impacted.”

Lt. Riddle is hopeful non-Delawareans understand the seriousness of the coronavirus crisis.

“It is important for the beach community, just putting it out there. And we’ve tried to do it through media releases and whatnot, just the fact that if you have a primary residence and it’s not in this state, please stay at that residence,” said Lt. Riddle. “Obviously, like we say, if you can’t follow that primary request, secondarily the request is that if you are going to come here, know you are coming here straight to a 14-day quarantine, and bring the stuff you need for 14 days. Don’t go out in the supermarkets here, in the Walmarts here, and subject the people that live here, the citizens that live here to any maybe an amplified exposure to the virus from more populated areas where a lot of these people are coming from. That is something that I think is really hitting home in the beach communities, is that we’ve got to really try to push the message out to get people to stay at their primary residence.”

While Delaware’s state parks and wildlife areas remain open, there are additional restrictions for residents and visitors. Under the latest directive, anyone who enters Delaware from another state must immediately self-quarantine for 14 days and that applies to individuals who would like to fish, hunt or intended to visit state parks and wildlife areas, including the state’s golf courses. It also allows limited vehicle access to beaches for the purpose of surf fishing for those with a current surf fishing permit.

Even inland, town leaders are urging common sense and adherence to State of Emergency orders and restrictions.

“We certainly don’t have the tourism that some of those towns have. We certainly have traffic that passes through the town,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “We’re, I think, a little more year-round oriented than some of those areas. And as a result, we may not be affected as much by the people coming down to a second home. That being said, certainly the town of Millsboro would encourage residents and visitors alike to abide by the Governor’s order and look to federal and state guidance relative to sheltering in place, staying at home, and keeping any movement or travel to a minimum.”

Georgetown Mayor Bill West pointedly said: “Please stay at your primary home until we win this war. There will be time in the future for Sussex County enjoyment. We all want to be safe.”

Dagsboro Mayor Brian Baull echoed that message: “… heed the messages from our state and county leaders, as the sooner we ‘flatten the curve’ and see this pandemic cone to an end, the sooner we can see our local businesses back open for business!”

While Seaford City Mayor David Genshaw said Seaford isn’t a large second-home community, the city has many workers traveling for employment.

“Certainly, Seaford has people crossing lines of states every day to work, whether at INVISTA, Nanticoke Memorial Hospital … and the Governor certainly has made provisions for that. We certainly need those people to work. But we have not issued any kind of ‘Please stay home kind of thing.’ Again, hopefully people are listening to this and using common sense, doing what is right for their families to stay safe,” he said.

Georgetown Police Department, while continuing to provide 24-7 service to the town’s residents, is not specifically conducting traffic stops to assess essential travel.

“The safety of all residents remains a top priority throughout this pandemic,” said Georgetown Police Department spokesman Det. Joey Melvin. “In the regular performance of their duties, officer interactions with the public can present opportunities to educate on current mandates and the importance of self-quarantine. The Georgetown Police Department recognizes that this pandemic is dynamic, and our agency will continue to support any terms set forth by the State of Delaware.”

Mayor Genshaw said he believes non-essential traffic nationwide will soon be impacted.

“I think travel is being controlled in so many places now that I think this week every state is really starting to clamp down. So, I think by default you’re going to see that lessen his week,” he said. “We encourage the out-of-staters to stop at our Chick-fil-A, and our McDonald’s, and our Starbucks…. and donate their money to our local businesses. We love that. We hope they will continue to do that.”

In his Facebook posting Monday, Mr. Vincent urged non-Delawareans to put off First State visits.

“Sussex County and Delaware are in the midst of a national crisis, and our first responders, hospitals, health care workers, and local and state officials need you to stay in your home communities, for your own safety and for the health and well-being of our residents and the health care system,” Mr. Vincent said. “Please heed our governor’s message to ‘stay-at-home’. If not, and if you must travel to Delaware, then be warned – and be prepared to stay for the long-haul. Per Gov. John Carney’s order, anyone visiting Delaware during this pandemic will now have to quarantine in place for 14 days, even if you’re not sick or displaying symptoms. That’s two weeks separated from your home communities, away from family, friends, and the comforts and services you’d find in your hometowns.”

Ms. Vincent said the best option is to simply stay put. “I can assure you, our sandy beaches, quaint seaside resorts, forested trails and everything else Sussex County proudly has to offer will be here waiting for you when this crisis has passed. It will indeed pass, and when it does, Sussex County will welcome you back with open arms. Until then, please stay put, stay safe, and most of all stay well.”

Lt. Riddle made it a point to thank and applaud the folks he considers the real heroes, those on the front lines of the pandemic.

“I know law enforcement always gets thanks a lot, but I think all of the thanks in this situation need to go to the healthcare workers, the EMTs and the paramedics,” Lt. Riddle said. “They are on the front lines of this deal and are really being put in harm’s way.”

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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