Carney outlines criteria Delaware needs to meet to reopen economy

DOVER – Widespread testing, along with a decline in the number of new coronavirus cases, will be needed for Delaware’s economy to gradually reopen.

Delaware Gov. John Carney said Tuesday that the state is following the guidance of the White House task force document “Opening Up America Again.”

That guidance has three phases, along with gating criteria to meet before beginning each phase.

The first check box is a decline in cases.

Delaware’s number of new cases, by day, had been dropping. However, there is some flaws in the timeliness of test returns that has to be considered.

“You can see on this bar chart that we are on a downward decline,” said the governor during his Tuesday press briefing.

The chart showed 248 cases on Friday, 215 on Saturday, 207 on Sunday and 186 on Monday.

The Delaware Division of Public Health reported 269 new cases for Tuesday. How the state will apply the case numbers in a trend is problematic because of the way results are reported.

“To get to the starting line, you need 14 days of declining cases,” said Gov. Carney. “We do have to factor in the fact that the test results we get back kind of aren’t even and consistent. So we might have to correct for that in our day-to-day analysis.”

Test results have taken anywhere from a few days to two weeks to come back, he said. The exception is that the state lab results arrive in 24 hours.

Another important part of the criteria is hospital capacity, and so far Delaware’s hospitals have been able to handle the demands of the coronavirus.

Additionally, Delaware will need widespread testing that allows public health to have a “rigorous contact tracking system,” the governor said.

“Over the next few days or week, we should have more to say about the resources we have to do that,” he said. “The simple reality is that most states do not have that capacity right now and everybody is in competition trying to get the testing kits necessary to do that and stand up the contact tracing teams to implement the full program.”

A firm date for entering the first phase or subsequent phases is not possible to determine yet, said Gov. Carney.

At the end of a Tuesday press conference, he was asked about the possibility of Delaware’s beaches being open by Memorial Day.

“So, let’s do the math there,” said Gov. Carney, starting with Wednesday, April 22.

The first 14 days needed prior to entering Phase 1 would extend to May 6.

Then, if criteria is met, Phase 1 would be complete on May 20.

“A lot of things are going to have to fall in our favor in order for us to get there,” said Gov. Carney.

“The most difficult part is going to be having that testing program in place with being able to deliver twice the number of tests we’re doing today and have a core of health care workers that are going out there tracking contacts for each COVID-19 positive person that has tested. That’s going to be a hard thing to do in a month.”

The guidelines

The guidelines, distributed to governors last week, are published under the headline “Opening Up America Again.” They follow concerns voiced by President Donald Trump about the need to get more people back to work and to shopping as millions of Americans have lost their jobs.

A look at the guidelines:

Before Phase 1

Among the boxes that must be checked are a decline of documented COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period and a robust testing program in place for at-risk health care workers. Other criteria include a decline of influenza-like illnesses reported within a 14-day period and hospitals having enough protective gear for their workers and enough beds, ventilators and other needed supplies to treat all patients.

Phase 1

The guidance affects certain employers differently. For example, schools and organized youth activities that are currently closed, such as daycare, should remain closed. The guidance also says that bars should remain closed. However, larger venues such as movie theaters, churches, ballparks and arenas can operate but under strict distancing protocols.

If possible, employers should have workers return to the job in phases.

Also under phase one, vulnerable individuals such as elderly people and those with underlying health conditions should continue to shelter in place. Individuals who do go out should avoid socializing in groups of more than 10 people in places that don’t provide appropriate physical distancing. Trade shows and receptions are cited as examples.

The guidelines also recommend minimizing nonessential travel during phase one.

To move into Phase 2, the guidance says a state must have “no evidence of a rebound” and “satisfy the gating criteria a second time.” As Gov. Carney noted above, that requires another 14 days of declining numbers.

Phase 2

The guidelines say nonessential travel can resume, however all vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place. When people go out in public, they should avoid social settings with more than 50 people when appropriate physical distancing is not practical.

Employers in phase two are asked to continue to encourage telework when possible and to close common areas where personnel are likely to congregate or they should enforce “moderate social distancing protocols.”

Schools and daycare can reopen. Bars may open but should leave less room for people to stand around when possible.

Phase 3

To move into this phase, a state needs to have no evidence of a rebound and satisfy the 14-day criteria a third time.

In this phase, vulnerable individuals can resume going out in public but should practice physical distancing. Visits to senior care centers and hospitals can also resume, though those who interact with residents and patients must remain diligent about following good hygiene practices, namely washing their hands frequently. Meanwhile, low-risk populations should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments. Employers can resume unrestricted staffing of work sites.

Delaware outlook

Last week, when President Donald Trump announced the guidance, he said it would be the governors who make the call on the transition.

The document says it is “implementable on statewide or county-by-county basis at governor’s discretion.”

Gov. Carney said the state will continue to focus on the vulnerable population in nursing homes and target the hot spots that emerge, including the Sussex County immigrant population where numbers have increased in recent days.

“We remain with our heads down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, really focusing on flattening that curve and our message still remains for people to stay at home, practice basic hygiene, protect your neighbors, look after your senior citizens.”

Life in Delaware, however, will continue to evolve.

“Once we do start opening in phase one and phase two and ultimately phase 3, its going to be very different for folks in terms of the way they conduct their daily lives with potentially mask wearing, with social distancing, with avoiding large gatherings, because the virus will be present until we have a vaccine or an effective treatment.”

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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