By Susan Canfora
Gov. John Carney, in his Memorial Day message shared during a press briefing on Friday, May 22, asked Delaware residents to concentrate on how much veterans gave during past wars, while not becoming complacent about taking precautions against the coronavirus.
“I know everyone has, over the past 11 weeks, make sacrifices to get us to the place where we are. We’re here because people have made sacrifices,” he said, remembering hearing many stories about business owners deeply concerned about the future.
“This is an important weekend for us. It’s a weekend to honor those who made it possible to have the freedoms we enjoy during a pandemic we’ve never experienced in our lifetimes.
“Let’s not give in now. We are all in this together … let’s pull together this weekend and show that we can do it,” he said.
As the state begins to reopen, police will enforce restrictions put in place to protect from the coronavirus that has sickened more than 8,600 people in Delaware and killed more than 320, with a high rate in Sussex County, but Carney said he’s confident there will be voluntary compliance.
“This is a critical weekend for us. It will be a test for how we are able to keep socially distant to be safe, to protect our neighbors, how well we’re thinking about the effect of our actions on others.
“Hopefully we’ll get through the weekend, have big smiles on our faces and know sacrifices people have made the past 11 weeks were worth it,” Carney said.
Concerning lifting restrictions on short-term rentals, Carney said state officials will make the decision after Memorial Day weekend with “an eye toward caution and finding ways we can accomplish the objectives of public health.”
As restrictions are lifted, the focus will be on widespread testing, isolating the ill and expanding contact tracing, while continuing personal protective practices.
Churches will be open, at limited capacity, pleasing Carney’s mother, who attends Mass in Wilmington daily, he said. Although churches were never closed, they were greatly limited, the governor said.
Restrictions on Delaware beaches and pools were lifted at 5 p.m. Friday, and casinos and race tracks will reopen on Monday, June 1.
“We’ve been doing a rolling reopening. We felt like rolling things forward and doing things gradually was a better way to do it.
“I understand people are tired of staying at home and tired of not getting out to the way life was. People made big sacrifices,” the governor said.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, who was with Carney during the press briefing, said applications are being accepted for contact tracers to work for about 18 months. See norc.org, click on “careers,” then on “job openings.”
Rattay assured those who are contacted that tracers won’t share personal information, but will work to determine who those who had, or have, the coronavirus were in contact with, so they can be tested and isolated, if they test positive.
Concerning testing of those who work and live in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, Rattay said 75 percent had been tested by Thursday, May 21.
Rattay said cost can be a barrier of testing in long-term care facilities. The state received a $67 million grant from the CDC “to allow us to do the work we need to do right now,” she said.
“It also includes hiring staff for enhanced laboratory, surveillance, informatics and other workforce capacity,” she said.
A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said there have been several testing events in recent days and about 2,000 people tested in the past week.
As businesses start reopening, he will work with owners to test employees.
Carney said testing data is available at Delaware.gov, under My Healthy Community.
Mike Jackson, director of the Delaware Office of Management and Budget, said Carney submitted a budget in January that had modest growth of just under 4 percent. Despite the toll the coronavirus has taken on the economy, he said there will be surplus of just under $40 million.
The state has been able to transition from a shortfall to surplus because of the $126.3 million savings account the state had.
Jackson said next year will be challenging, with little to no growth in the FY21 budget.
“We have a fairly cautiously optimistic outlook for the current fiscal year,” he said.
Carney said Jackson’s update underscores the importance of fiscal care during the past couple of years and having a financial cushion.
Concerning contact tracing, Jackson said federal funds will be used to pay for portions of it and towns will be assisted with federal money.
Carney said when testing began at poultry plants several weeks ago, positive results were in the 30 percent range, but have since dropped to 12 percent.
Rattay said staff will be tested weekly.
Asked by a news reporter about state employees being furloughed or laid off, Carney said preventing that is his No. 1 priority. He said officials are looking for ways to cut spending to protect jobs.
Concerning schools opening in the fall, Carney said testing has to be done, maybe with the help of local vendors, although the procedure hasn’t yet been determined.