If there’s a bright spot to COVID-19 in Rehoboth Beach, it’s that the pandemic necessitated al fresco dining on city sidewalks in the name of public safety. It appears that dining option will continue through at least the rest of the year.
Rehoboth Beach commissioners resumed their weekly COVID-related meetings July 14; the sole topic of discussion was to be how the city would encourage the governor to extend the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner’s ability to allow outdoor seating for food and drink establishments. That provision is due to expire at the end of the month.
According to a July 13 letter prepared by the city to send to Gov. John Carney, the city has granted outdoor seating to 37 eating establishments, 31 of which serve alcohol. The letter requested the governor extend the ABCC approvals until at least Oct. 31.
Before any discussion began, Mayor Paul Kuhns said legislation, HB 349, extending the powers of the ABC commissioner to allow outdoor dining had already been passed through the General Assembly. The bill extends this power through March 31, 2021.
As of July 15, the bill was still waiting for Gov. John Carney’s signature to become law, but Kuhns said he expected the governor to sign it soon. Once it’s signed, it will be good for the city and its businesses, said the mayor.
Commissioner Susan Gay asked how the city was planning to deal with the pedestrian walkways that were installed around restaurants that took advantage of outdoor dining.
In late May, the city installed barricades along the first and second blocks of Rehoboth Avenue, blocking parking spaces to give restaurants more space for outdoor seating and to allow more area for social distancing. A couple of weeks later, after an outcry by non-dining merchants, the city removed the majority of the barricades in favor of pedestrian walkways around specific areas. The city rented hundreds of the barriers, but also purchased 50 of them.
At this point, Kuhns said the city will continue to do what it’s doing, which will give the city and its businesses the time to figure out a plan for the fall. The secret is to get through the summer, he said.
Update on face mask requirements
Two weeks ago, commissioners decided that face coverings should be worn in all public places, including the beach. Last week, that decision was modified to say face masks are not required on the beach or while exercising, when social distancing is possible. However, coverings are still needed when entering and exiting the beach, and in all other public areas, especially the Boardwalk.
Commissioner Pat Coluzzi said she was disappointed signs hadn’t been installed with wording reflecting face masks should be used when entering and exiting the beach.
Rehoboth Beach Police Chief Keith Banks said the city has been able to reword signs to reflect changes, but wording associated with entering and exiting the beach would require a full redo of the signs. He said new signs at the approximately 30 beach entrances would be installed soon.
Update COVID-positive lifeguards
A spike in COVID-positive Rehoboth Beach lifeguards has subsided, and some of the guards who tested positive first are returning to work.
Two weeks ago, the city said three lifeguards had tested positive for COVID-19. Just 24 hours later, during another special reopening meeting, Banks said eight lifeguards were out – the three positives and five who were quarantining because of exposure. Last week, the city said an additional 10 guards had tested positive, raising the total to 13.
During the July 14 meeting, Banks said since last week, two more guards had tested positive, raising the total to 15, but two of the original guards who tested positive had since tested negative and returned to work. The other guards have continued to quarantine, said Banks, adding he expects them back to work soon, pending appropriate negative tests.
Banks said the city is averaging 20 on-duty lifeguards per day and has no plans to close any section of the beach. He said the beach patrol has been able to manage the staffing shortage by modifying days off and expanding the coverage area for each stand.