Although he didn't say it during his May 1 press briefing, Gov. John Carney said earlier in an interview on a New Castle County radio station that it's possible Sussex County beaches could reopen in mid-June if specific benchmarks are met.
However, he also said, putting an exact date on reopening would be premature.
Carney said certain criteria will have to be met before any movement toward relaxing restrictions to the state of emergency could occur, including a decrease in positive COVID-19 cases and development of a comprehensive statewide testing system.
“We are starting to show little signs that this is slowing down. But the reality is it’s still not safe to be out in the community even though we are all eager,” said Karyl Rattay, director of Delaware Division of Public Health.
Carney said state and healthcare officials are thrusting significant resources to stemming a spike in positive cases in Sussex County, particularly along the Route 113 corridor in towns where poultry processing plants are located.
Increased community testing organized by the three Sussex County hospitals started last week and will continue this week. Carney said 1,100 people were tested during the first two sessions in Georgetown by Beebe Healthcare and in Milford by Bayhealth.
“We are starting to flatten the curve, although there is an increase in cases in Sussex County. We understand everyone’s sense of urgency to move to the new normal, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “We are working to be ready because we don’t want to delay it a day. The more we can put into it now, the quicker we’ll get there.
“We’re getting better. The actions we’re taking are working. If we kind of ruin it, it could have very negative consequences,” Carney said. “If we stick together and we really lean into it, we can get through it sooner rather than later.”
Phase 1 of gradual reopening includes 14 days of declining positive COVID-19 cases, contact tracing of positive cases, increased testing, adequate personal protective equipment and adequate hospital capacity.
Carney said the goal of seeing two weeks of declining positive cases will be greatly affected by increased testing in Sussex County where many tests are coming back positive.
He said the state will need to conduct twice as many tests as currently are being done before steps can be taken to begin a phased-in reopening. Rattay said 1.7 percent – or about 15,300 – of Delaware residents have been tested, which is 15th highest in the nation.
Rattay reiterated what Carney said about testing. “We need to start ramping things up,” she said.
Testing must be readily available to people in long-term-care facilities, vulnerable areas, to those who have direct contact with others who have tested positive, essential workers and those who are asymptomatic, Rattay said.
In addition, the state needs more antibody testing, which provides results in 10 minutes.
“Anyone with symptoms should be tested as soon as possible with results in fewer than 3 to 5 days,” Rattay said.
Officials said more mobile and static testing sites are needed, including possible testing at pharmacies.
Carney ended the briefing with an ultimatum to Delaware residents.
“This is our test. This is the test of this generation,” Carney said. “We will be measured by it. Did we respond with more of a community sense or will we respond more selfishly, thinking about just ourselves? I have to to consider everybody in the state, and at the end of the day let the chips fall where they may.”