Gov. John Carney this week hinted that Delaware is likely to follow what he called the “yellow light,” or second of three possible scenarios for reopening schools. It involves using a mixed model of instruction with both remote learning and in-person instruction.
The other two models, discussed at Carney’s press briefing last week, are: students and teachers return to school fulltime, with precautions in place, including wearing face masks; or schools remain closed due to substantial community spread, with remote teaching.
“As we look toward the fall, and reopening of the schools, we are looking at flattening that curve. Increased flattening will move us into the green light for as much in-person instruction as possible. My personal view is we will be in that yellow-light category as we move into September,” he said at the Tuesday, July 21, press briefing.
Reopening will be based on the number of cases of coronavirus in the state, percentage of hospitalizations and rate of spread.
“It’s not going to be based on fear. It’s going to be based on logistics and operational challenges of the schools. We are going to work very closely with the schools to get as much in-person instruction as possible,” Carney said, adding that the goal is to test every teacher and staff member, and possibly have schools reopen a few weeks apart, for adequate time to test and complete contact tracing.
Carney said a public health expert will be assigned to each school district to help with decisions about reopening, how to move children to and from buses and position them on buses, how to feed them healthful meals and properly space them in classrooms.
Referring to a study from the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine, the governor said back-to-school recommendations focus on elementary-school grades.
“It makes sense, because children from kindergarten through Grade 5 are least likely to catch the virus … although they could be transmitters,” he said.
“We know schools provide more than education. We feed thousands of students across Delaware every day with school breakfasts and school lunches. School districts have done a really good job making sure those students got their meals delivered,” he said of the period after schools closed for in-person instruction. “More important than ever is our effort with other members of the General Assembly and, of course, with our mental health community, to help students deal with trauma that is affecting their ability to learn.
“Children get those services at school as well. The school is childcare or daycare for lots of parents who go to work every day. They need a place for their children to be, and school is an important part of that,” Carney said.
Regarding deciding whether to cancel popular annual events, such as the Delaware State Fair, peach festival and parade, Carney said decisions are being made based on how concentrated crowds are.
The state fair lasts a week and a half, so it’s spread out, he said. Several fair events were canceled, and others will be outdoors. This year, Carney said, the fair will look more like a 4-H gathering, with displays and management by staff and volunteers.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, said state fair organizers have worked with public health officials to determine which events to cancel and will regulate crowds and social distancing. Masks will be required by everyone at the fair.
“Face coverings matter,” Carney said.
“On the White House call just yesterday, we heard from governors of Florida, of Texas, of Arizona and other states who previously had not been as aggressively pushing face coverings. That’s the most important thing we can do,” Carney said.
A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, said the goal is get everyone in Delaware tested, and he emphasized that no order or referral from a doctor is required to be tested.
“As far as testing is being done, we are right now 13th in the country for testing per capita. We want to make sure we identify those who are testing positive. That’s the only way to stay safe,” he said.
Schall also urged Delaware residents to make a plan, make an emergency kit and stay informed about hurricanes and storms during the current hurricane season.
“It only takes one. Whether it’s a busy hurricane season or a slow hurricane season, it only takes one to change your life,” he said.
Answering a question from a reporter concerning starting football practice, Carney said that decision will be based on information from health experts. He said he doesn’t think college football practice, or games, are possible, unless everybody wears a shield “and that would be difficult to do.”
He said is willing to work with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, chairman of the National Governors’ Association, who Carney said has “done an outstanding job in that position.”
However, Hogan has allowed Maryland beach towns, including Ocean City, to make independent decisions “and that has collided with some efforts in Delaware beaches,” Carney said.
“Our approach is a demonstration that what we are doing is working, and theirs, not so much. They have had restaurants that have had to close completely because they’ve had outbreaks among their workers. If you’re seeing outbreaks, the evidence is there with people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or they have friends and they have lived with people. You have to be more cautious there,” he said.
Concerning coronavirus among poultry workers, Carney said there hasn’t been an increase in the number of cases in recent days. State officials have not heard about spikes from hospital officials, union representatives, plant managers or anyone from the Department of Agriculture, he said.
As of Monday at 6 p.m., there had been 13,746 cases of coronavirus in the state, with an increasingly larger number in the 18- to 34-year-old age bracket; 144,601 negative tests; 525 deaths; and 58 hospitalizations, with 11 patients in critical conditions. There had been 105.3 new cases per day, on a five-day average, with 4.2 percent of those tested being positive. That is under the target rate of 5 percent positive.