Opening the beaches for Memorial Day weekend could still happen, but only if statistics show the number of COVID-19 cases drops within separate two-week periods.
“A lot of things are going to have to fall in our favor in order to get there,” said Gov. John Carney during a press conference April 21. “I would like nothing more than to be able to do that but it's really hard to see, given the guidance that we have, where that will be a reality.”
Carney said he is using recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House Opening Up America Again as guidelines to reopen Delaware. In an April 22 conference call with municipalities, Carney told them he has also spoken with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan about coordinating efforts in coastal communities along the Delaware and Maryland coastline, said Lewes City Manager Ann Marie Townshend.
“We have visitors coming to our beaches from the same population centers,” she said. “Apparently, the local officials in Ocean City are asking Gov. Hogan to not open right now.”
Before Delaware can prepare to reopen, Carney said the number of new positive COVID-19 cases must have peaked, and continue on a downward trend for 14 days. The state must also show that the number of positive tests as a percentage of total tests must be on a downward trajectory within a 14-day period.
During an April 21 press conference, Carney shared a bar graph that showed a decline in the number of new cases since April 17. “To get to the starting line has to be 14 days of declining cases, and so we'll be looking at this,” he said.
In order to reopen, the state also has to show that it has hospital capacity, which the state has shown since the beginning of the outbreak. The state's latest projections estimate 4,372 cases by April 25 with 656 hospitalized – a number lower than the 731 projected a week earlier. At that time, Carney said hospitals across the state have the capacity to handle 731 hospitalizations.
As Delaware considers reopening, Carney said, he may require residents to wear face masks in public, a similar mandate that has been issued in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“It's something we will look at as well,” he said.
Carney used a 28-day calculation stacking the two 14-day periods one after the other to determine whether beach communities could open for Memorial Day Weekend. Using April 22 as a hypothetical starting point for one 14-day count would go to May 2. The second 14-day period would go to May 20 – two days short of the weekend start.
But even if those days line up perfectly, Delaware would still only be able to begin the first phase of reopening, which is restrictive and requires social distancing, no groups of more than 10, and closed bars, under the White House recommendations.
Carney said he will tailor a plan for Delaware as the first phase of opening approaches.
“We're getting to a point where recoveries are outstripping hospitalizations, and that's certainly a good thing, but we're also seeing places where there's an uptick and we've got to deal with those mini surges,” he said.
Sussex County cases are increasing at the fastest rate in the state as the total number of cases catches up to the number in New Castle County. Georgetown has the highest concentration of cases in the state, and state agencies are focusing on rapid testing and treatment for residents in the area.
Before the state reopens, Carney said, a testing plan must be in place for people who are symptomatic and asymptomatic but the simple reality is states do not have testing capability and there is heavy competition for testing kits. Along with increased testing, Carney said, the state needs a rigorous contact-tracking program to find the origin of an outbreak.
“We're not there yet but I would say over the next few days or week we should have more to say about the resources we have,” he said.