Delaware beach-area bars lose seating options as virus spikes among 18- to 34-year-olds

The city of Rehoboth will require facial coverings in all public spaces as of 5 p.m. July 1. Photo by Chuck Snyder

DOVER — Delaware will remain in Phase 2 of COVID-19 reopening plans indefinitely and bar seating will be banned in the state’s beach restaurants starting Friday after an alarming uptick in coronavirus cases there.

Gov. John Carney made the announcement at his weekly press conference, saying Delaware does not want to follow the path of Texas, Florida, Georgia, California and other states that have seen a sharp rise in the spread of the virus.

“We are concerned about the phenomena we’re seeing here in our state since early to mid-June to where we are today, and just the complacency that we see, mostly in younger folks, particularly those who are enjoying our beaches and social activities,” he said. “That is a concern and the main reason we are going to stay in Phase 2 so that we can really make sure that we are stamping down this increase.

“I don’t want to be like these other states. We can stop it if we follow the rules; wear face masks and observe appropriate social distancing,” said Gov. Carney.

Positive tests results, predominantly among 18- to 34-year-olds in the beach communities, have risen and the state said the majority of cases have been at ZIP codes in Rehoboth Beach, Lewes, Dewey and communities south and west toward Route 30.

“We’re identifying those ZIP codes as areas where we will be closing the bars,” Gov. Carney said. “So, we’re going to delay Phase 3 across the state and close the bars indefinitely … effective on Friday, July 3.”

Additionally, Delaware State Parks will reduce capacity at its beach areas to 60% of parking capacity in an effort to reduce virus transmission.

The chart shows the average number of positives tests by day in the orange line. The blue bars represent an average of five values (date shown and two days before and after). The dotted line shows the trend. Source: Delaware Division of Public Health

The city of Rehoboth Beach, as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, will require facial coverings in all public spaces, including streets, sidewalks, parks, the boardwalk and the beach.

Delaware Department of Public Health spokeswoman Jen Brestel elaborated on the governor’s directive for bars.

“Restaurants will be allowed to operate and continue to offer alcohol, but patrons will not be permitted to order or congregate at the bar. They can prepare drinks for take-out or delivery to tables. Socially distanced tables can be set up in the bar area, but patrons will not be able to stand at the bar,” she said.

Under Gov. Carney’s state of emergency modification, effective Friday at 8 a.m., the following additional restrictions shall apply to taprooms and bar service in restaurants in the towns of Lewes, Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, Long Neck, Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, West Fenwick Island, Ocean View, Millville and/or the following ZIP codes: 19966 east of routes 24 and 5; 19945 east of Route 17; 19975 east of the intersection of SR 20 and SR 54, and the entirety of 19944, 19967, 19970, 19930, 19971, and 19958:

• Taprooms, brew pubs and restaurants may not permit patrons to sit or stand at a bar but may open the bar to prepare drinks to be brought to diners seated at tables;

• Taprooms, brewpubs and restaurants that choose to use designated bar space for seating patrons must arrange tables consistent with the Phase 2 Reopen Plan to allow for minimum social distancing, including the following; tables and booths must be arranged in a way that ensures seated patrons at one table are at least six feet apart from seated customers at another table. For booths, this typically will mean seating patrons at every other booth; for freestanding tables (with pull-out chairs), there should be eight feet apart to ensure that a seated patron is six feet from seated guests at other tables. Inside and outside seating must both comply with these standards;

• Tables must be disinfected in between each party;

• Patrons from different households may sit at a table together as long as they are socially distanced. Patrons must all have seats. Orders should be placed from a table and received at a table unless an alternative exists that ensures patrons who are not of the same household are socially distanced at all times while placing and receiving an order. All patrons must wear face coverings upon entering and exiting and when getting up from the table to use the restrooms, as required by under a previous modification;

• Patrons must have a reservation unless the establishment has a system for ensuring that patrons without a reservation do not gather while waiting to be seated. Takeout can still continue under pre-Phase 1 guidelines, but should be done without those ordering entering the dining facility when picking up the order;

• Any common areas where people would typically stand or engage in other activities must be off limits if not otherwise occupied by tables with seated patrons. This includes dance floors, arcade/bar game areas, pool tables and similar areas.

The order comes just ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, typically one of the busiest of the summer season.

Bottle and Cork in Dewey Beach, in a social media posting Tuesday afternoon said “all Dewey Beach bars will be open this week and weekend. The only change is the governor ordered us to take the stools away from the bars — therefore all drinks will be delivered to you at your table.”

Phase 1 of governor’s reopening plan permitted 30% fire marshal occupancy for restaurants and bars. It went to 60% under Phase 2.

With increasing numbers of positive virus cases in the beach area, several restaurants in Dewey Beach voluntarily reduced their service to curbside takeout only or closed altogether. Public testing events were scheduled and Beebe Healthcare is working with the Delaware Restaurant Association to test employees as needed.

Face masks in Rehoboth

Rehoboth Beach commissioners voted during a special meeting Tuesday to expand their facial covering regulation to all public areas unless people are actively bathing in the ocean.

“As we are seeing right now, without these precautions, the community spread is real,” said City Manager Sharon Lynn. “The city has crowded streets and people who are not wearing masks and ignoring social distancing.”

Everyone over the age of 12 must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in public places in Rehoboth. The order applies to all persons and includes bicyclists. “We cannot afford another shutdown of our city, our businesses or restaurants,” said Rehoboth Mayor Paul Kuhns. “So, we need each individual to make responsible decisions for the sake of our entire community – wear your mask when out in public.”

Gov. Carney said, “We don’t want it to get out control. Too many people have sacrificed too much for us to see another really dramatic uptick. And the only we that we are going to control that is if people follow the guidance. The virus isn’t going to go away. There is no vaccine. There is no way to chase it away. We’ve got to stamp it down ourselves by our own behavior. Do it for your family members, grandparents, your neighbor.”

Delaware Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karryl Rattay pointed to testing and contact tracing as another way to stem the virus spread.

“So testing is key for us getting on top of this and really understanding the incidence of COVID 19 in the beach area right now. We know we have a problem but the more testing we can do the better we can understand it. Also, the better we can isolate those who are positive and quarantine those who are contacts,” she said. “We began to talk about the beach situation a couple of weeks ago when we learned of several clusters of cases related to senior week, since then we’ve actually seen a spike in cases among 17- and 18-year-olds. We also learned of several lifeguards and restaurant and bar employees who have become positive.”

Data shows there are cases among residents of the beach community which often are not the same as those who have visited, who are working in the beach community, Dr. Rattay said.

Gov. Carney said testing results show a significant a shift in the average age of those testing positive to COVID-19 from somewhere in the 40s to 50 demographics to 18- to 25-year-olds.

Dr. Rattray said testing in the Dewey Beach/Rehoboth Beach ZIP code 19971 shows a significant increase in the percent positive cases recently. Thursday, of the more than 1,000 persons tested, 102 tested positive, a majority were younger people with mild symptoms or no symptoms, “which is common for your adults or kids who are positive for COVID-19.

“There are a lot of restaurants and bars who are really trying to do the right thing,” said Dr. Rattay. “It is hard for these establishments to control these crowds and to get people to do the right think quite frankly. So, it is up to everybody to do the right thing.”

Facial coverings and six-foot social distancing remain the protocol in limiting the spread of the virus, which has claimed 507 lives in Delaware.

Dr. Rattay said beefed-up enforcement will entail inspections, follow-up inspections and “certain establishments may be reverted to Phase 1 restrictions. Fines could be levied at $1,000 per violation, and all out closure could take place or referral to law enforcement depending on the circumstances,” she said.

Gov. Carney said, “We’ve come into a bit of a crossroads here on the pandemic trajectory. There has been a lot of pain and sacrifice, mostly from businesses that were forced to close. And we did great.

“Now, we’ve hit a bump in the road. And it’s really time for all of us to roll up our sleeves and to do what we have to do. We’re way better prepared today than we were March 15 to address whatever comes at us. I’m confident that Delawareans will seize the day and seize the moment and do what we have to do to put out that little fire. If we don’t, if we get complacent, if we listen to the nay-sayers then we’re going to end up like some of those other states.”

“We could shut everything down and then we’d have our economy fall apart, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Now, there are certain areas that just are more risky than others that we have to pay a lot more attention to,” he said.

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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