Coronavirus COVID-19

In an announcement that many were anticipating, Gov. John Carney has extended the closure of Delaware schools through Friday, May 15.

Delaware had confirmed 87 positive cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) as of Monday night, March 23. This includes 20 cases in Sussex County, 58 in New Castle County and nine in Kent County. That’s 31 more than the previous day, and now includes ages 1 to 80.

This announcement comes on the heels of yesterday’s State of Emergency update, closing all non-essential businesses and ordering Delawareans to stay at home whenever possible. Those orders go into effect from 8 a.m. on Tuesday, March 24, until May 15, or until the public health threat is eliminated.

According to the long list of “essential” businesses, public and charter schools were to remain closed, except to support distance learning.

“Our goals are simple. We intend to limit the spread of [Coronavirus] COVID-19, prevent an increase in cases that our hospital systems cannot handle, and keep Delaware communities healthy,” Carney wrote in a public letter, thanking families and the educational community for their efforts to keep Delawareans safe and healthy.

School districts and state leaders must decide what comes next.

“We have spent a significant portion of the last week discussing plans for remote instruction, the delivery of meals, and other social services,” Carney said.” This is an unusual time —but children still deserve access to a quality education, and families rely on the social services we deliver in our schools every day. We’ll continue to work directly with school leaders on these important issues.”

This will result in a total nine-week closure (including spring break). Delaware schools were initially closed for two weeks, March 16 to 27, “to help school leaders and educators plan for what came next,” Carney said. “We have spent a significant portion of the last week discussing plans for remote learning, the delivery of meals and other social services.

“Delaware children still deserve access to learning opportunities during this unusual time. And families rely on social services we deliver in our public schools,” so students will continue to have access to meals.

Districts and charters will work with their staffs to create remote instruction plans so students can continue to learn during this crisis. Besides online materials from the Department of Education (www.doe.k12.de.us) and Indian River School Districts (www.irsd.net), IRSD will also have offer printed copies of these materials in a bin located outside of each school’s main entrance. These are all optional, non-graded lessons.

Both websites also list the free meal locations, available to all Delaware youth, ages 18 and below.

Although the school calendar will likely extend beyond the original last day of school, Secretary of Education Susan Bunting plans to recommend forgiveness to the State Board of Education so that no district or charter would go beyond the end of June. Delaware has also requested a federal exemption for assessment and accountability requirements.

“While we strongly believe in measuring results, we want to use any remaining time in this year's school calendar for student instruction,” Carney said.

“As we learn more about COVID-19, I will continue to take necessary action to keep Delawareans safe and healthy. We will remain committed to communicating directly with school leaders and your communities about our response, and the path forward for our state.”

Delaware will marshal medical supplies and personnel

Also on Monday, Carney declared a Public Health Emergency, effective at 5 p.m. This means the Secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) or her designee, shall serve as the Public Health Authority.

Essentially, that person oversees the state’s entire response to this medical crisis, assessing and taking immediate action on various issues: supplies, hospital bed capacity, treatments, quarantine, vaccination, Medicaid, various state inspection requirements that may be waived and more.

They are directed to utilize all available resources of state government as reasonably necessary to address this public health emergency.

Also, medical personnel and students will get more leeway to operate in Delaware (also including mental health). That includes allowance for active out-of-state certifications; recently lapsed Delaware certifications; and some medical and nursing students. These rules are permitted by another order, issued that night by the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) and the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH).

People are allowed to leave their homes. Delawareans may leave their homes to get groceries, pick up a prescription, see a doctor and engage in other activities essential to their health, and the health and well-being of their family members, including pets. People may also engage in outdoor activities, but must strive to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Also on Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order that closes all non-essential businesses as of 5 p.m. that night, although he has not insisted on shelter-in-place measures.

Delawareans with general questions about COVID-19 or their exposure risk can call the Division of Public Health’s Coronavirus Call Center at 1-866-408-1899, or 711 for individuals who are hearing-impaired, from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Questions can also be submitted by email at DPHCall@delaware.gov.

Individuals who are sick or were exposed to someone with symptoms (fever and either cough or shortness of breath) should stay at home and away from vulnerable populations. They should contact a primary care provider for guidance regarding symptoms and next steps. Test sites are available statewide, but only with a referral from a physician or telemedicine provider Those without a primary care provider can call the DPH Call Center Line at 1-866-408-1899.

Updates on Delaware’s response are online at de.gov/coronavirus.

Staff Reporter

Laura Walter is an award-winning reporter on schools, environment, people and history. A graduate of Indian River High School and Washington College, she has rappelled off a building and assisted a magician, and encourages readers to act on local issues.