Delaware takes first steps toward reopening

Ocean City, Md., reopens beach and boardwalk May 9
May 8, 2020

As towns and states surrounding Delaware begin to loosen restrictions, Gov. John Carney has taken the state’s first steps toward reopening the economy, allowing retail businesses to offer curbside pickup beginning May 8. The order also allows a select few other businesses such as hair salons to reopen with limited appointments.

The announcement comes as business owners, elected officials and some residents throughout the state are getting restless and eager to return to some form of normalcy. 

Carney said the decision was made because new hospitalizations and the percentage of positive cases related to COVID-19 are on the decline.

“Together we have been able to flatten the curve,” Carney said during his May 5 press briefing. “Now we need to follow through and follow instructions as we gradually reopen our economy.” 

Carney said the state has not yet met the criteria set forth by the White House Task Force and Centers for Disease Control to enter Phase 1 of reopening the state’s economy, but statistics show the state is tracking in the right direction. Delawareans must continue to follow physical distancing, wear face masks when in public and stay home whenever possible. 

“Don’t misinterpret any of this to mean that we can take our foot completely off the brakes here,” Carney said.

Carney’s team is using a five-day average to determine the trend for percentage of new positive cases, a statistic that should account for increased testing statewide. His team has also been tracking hospitalizations, which have remained relatively flat for the last few weeks and the number of new hospitalizations, which is on the decline since the end of April.

Beebe Healthcare President and CEO Dr. David Tam said during a May 6 virtual meeting with the Lewes Board of Health that COVID patient numbers in his hospital are stable.

“The number for COVID-19 patients requiring ICU or ventilatory support is also stable, if not going down a little bit,” he said.

Despite an increase in confirmed positive cases in Sussex County as a result of more testing, Tam said, the hospitalization rate is not increasing.

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, applauded Carney’s actions toward reopening and urged the state to continue moving forward.

“The physical well being of our residents, along with their economic well being, are not mutually exclusive,” Lopez said. “To say otherwise, as some are, is a false choice. State and local governments have the ability to ensure the wellness of both and should align efforts to ensure clear-eyed focus as we enter this new phase of living with the virus around us.”

Lopez said he understands a phased approach is necessary, but it must begin now.

“Delaware has always been the First State, and while we sure didn't need to be the first state to ease restrictions, and understandably so, we should not be the last state,” he said. “Our citizens have persevered with dignity and grace as this crisis has unfolded. They deserve more than that. State and local government should follow their lead and be elastic in enabling businesses to get back on track, all the while ensuring the physical well being of our citizenry.”

Pressure to reopen mounts

Carney’s announcement was made the same day Ocean City, Md. Mayor Rick Meehan announced the town’s beach, boardwalk and inlet parking lot would open Saturday, May 9. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order will remain in place, but he loosened some restrictions May 6 to reopen the state parks and beaches and allow certain outdoor activities such as golf and tennis.

Meanwhile, Cape May County, N.J., will allow rentals of 30 days or more Monday, May 11, and short-term rentals as of Monday, June 1. New Jersey beach towns farther north will allow short-term rentals as early as the day after Memorial Day.

Gov. John Carney’s 14-day self-quarantine remains in effect for anyone entering Delaware from another state, with exceptions for healthcare workers, those working for an essential business or anyone caring for a family member.

Pressure has been mounting for Carney to begin reopening the state’s economy. Several states around the country have reopened, hundreds of people protested outside Legislative Hall May 1 and many of the state’s Republican elected officials have expressed their views to Carney.

Carney said he’s following guidance from health officials to determine when it is safe to reopen.

“We still have COVID in our community, and it’s not going away, and we’re not out of the woods,” he said. “Everyone is eager. They’ve seen the number of cases and hospitalizations flatten. We’ve heard the anguish in small business owners’ voices of the economic carnage in every corner of the state. We hear the restlessness … but we make these decisions as a team.”

Damian DeStefano, director of the Delaware Division of Small Business, said during a May 6 virtual town hall that the state will be looking at compliance levels statewide following May 8’s partial reopening to determine how to move forward once the state moves into Phase 1.

DeStefano said state officials are looking at continuing to use a percentage of a building’s fire code capacity as it moves into Phase 1 of reopening.

“We’ve been getting a lot of questions about how we can instill confidence in consumers and staff that what we’re doing is creating a safe workplace and creating a safe storefront, restaurant, bar or other business,” DeStefano said. “I think it’s critically important that we work with both industry and public health officials as we come up with these plans.”

Short-term rentals could be permitted on a limited basis in Phase 1, DeStefano said, but more likely in Phase 2 when the non-essential travel requirement is loosened.

Dr. Rick Hong, medical director for the Division of Public Health, said, during the May 6 town hall, the state is considering all options for reopening, including opening by county.

Coastal towns share plan

Carney recently received a letter from the Association of Coastal Towns, which comprises mayors and town managers from all seven of Delaware’s beach towns. In the letter, ACT recommends a three-phased reopening.

Carney said he has a call planned with the mayors of the beach towns this week to discuss a plan related to opening the beach.

“More broadly, I think looking toward the end of the month would be kind of the best estimate of when that might occur,” he said.

In Phase 1, ACT recommends opening beaches in Dewey Beach and Fenwick Island to walking only and to assess compliance. Lewes and Henlopen Acres are already allowing this. On May 6, South Bethany allowed access to the beach for exercise and dog walking.

Phase 2 would allow beach towns, besides Rehoboth and Bethany, to expand to small-group activities to include exercise, yoga classes and general recreation such as kit flying and throwing and kicking balls.

In Phase 3, the beaches would be fully open to normal use, including swimming and sun bathing. In this phase, ACT recommends Rehoboth and Bethany open for the first time, with no restrictions.

Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach have canceled Fourth of July festivities, including fireworks. Lewes officials have canceled the old-fashioned children’s games on Second Street, but no decision has been made on fireworks, the boat parade or the Doo-Dah parade. Mayor Ted Becker said the Go Fourth! Fireworks committee will meet May 16 to discuss the event.

Adjusting to the new normal

The governor’s latest action to allow certain businesses to resume activity on a limited basis has sent some businesses scrambling, specifically hair salons which will have to operate under very strict guidelines.

While most say they will attempt to take clients, some will continue to wait it out.

“Our business is not designed to run this way,” wrote Stephan and Michael Maybroda, owners of Stephan and Co. Salon and Spa, in an email to their clients. “After being closed for seven weeks, we expected and feel we deserved more advanced notice to open our business in a proper and safe way. This announcement blindsided our industry, and being asked to find a way to work within these guidelines is unrealistic.”

Expanded businesses

Curbside pickup-only

• Clothing stores

• Shoe stores

• Sporting goods, hobby, musical instruments

• Book, periodical, music stores

• Department stores

• Tobacco and vape

• Other general merchandise

• Office supply, stationery, and gift stores

• Used merchandise stores

• Consumer goods rental

Appointment only

  • Jewelry stores
  • Division of Small Business to expand list

Hair salons

  • Open to employees of essential businesses only
  • No more than two appointments at a time

• All must wear masks

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