A decision about how schools will reopen could be finalized as early as next week, Gov. John Carney said at his Tuesday, July 28, press briefing, noting that it most likely will be a hybrid model with both remote learning and in-person instruction, with elementary school children returning to school buildings.
“We will set the criteria. We will provide the guidance,” he said, showing a slide indicating Delaware is in the yellow zone, between the green and red zones of frequency of coronavirus cases, and meaning there is minimum to moderate community spread of the virus.
“Help us get to green,” the governor asked, urging frequent hand-washing and mask-wearing in public.
“You’re going to help children go back to school, and you’re going to help businesses stay open. And get tested,” he added.
Dr. Rick Hong, medical director at the Delaware Division of Public Health, said three sets of metrics are being used to assess the coronavirus situation in Delaware — volume or rate of positive cases, acuity or hospitalizations, and testing capacity or percentage of those who test positive.
Health officials will provide guidance so decisions can be made about how schools will open, Hong said, adding that all schools should plan for positive cases among students, teachers or staff. If someone tests positive in school, the case will be investigated, he said.
Schools won’t have to close because of a case of the virus, as long as face coverings are being used, proper distances are kept, and schools are cleaned and sanitized.
If, for example, a first-grade student is not wearing a mask and was sitting for more than 15 minutes at less than 6 feet away from a classmate who was ill, it will be recommended that the student go into quarantine.
Hong reminded the public that masks must cover both the mouth and nose to be effective. Those with health conditions that prevent them from wearing masks are at higher risk “and don’t get a Get Out of Jail Free card,” he said.
Hong recommended testing for everyone and issued a reminder that a negative test doesn’t mean distancing and face masks are no longer needed. It only means the person is negative at that time, but they could still become infected.
Carney said being in the yellow zone, as Delaware is, means the state has 10 to 25 average daily hospitalizations per 100,000, 10 to 100 new cases per 100,000 people, and 3 percent to 10 percent of those tested testing positive.
From April 18 to May 22, he said, the state of Delaware was in the red zone, meaning there were more cases of the coronavirus. From the end of May until the middle of June, the state was in the yellow category. In mid-June, hospitalizations improved, but there have been new cases since then, he said.
During the past six weeks, the state has remained in the yellow zone, he said.
Jamie Mack, chief of Health Systems Protection at the Delaware Division of Public Health, said about 1,000 complaints about non-compliance were received in July, and that those in his office conducted 300 site compliance checks.
There will be increased presence by enforcement officials in August, he said.
“We’re increasing enforcement to keep businesses open. That really is the case,” Mack said.
The most common complaint made to Mack’s office is improper use of, or lack of, face masks, and that is where enforcement will increase, he said. In restaurants, his department will check to be sure tables are adequately spaced, as well as those waiting in line outdoors, and that there is a reservation system.
During officials’ first visits to businesses and restaurants, information and recommendations will be provided. If staff has to return for a second or third compliance check, “We will have a very different conversation,” Mack said.
“We haven’t had to get too aggressive yet, but we do have fines and tools to reinforce the importance of what we need to do,” he said, adding that if a business owner refuses to comply, his staff has “nice orange ‘Closed’ signs.”
Anyone with a complaint should e-mail it to HSPcontact@delaware.gov.
As of Monday, July 27, at 6 p.m., there had been 14,476 cases of the coronavirus in Delaware, with 94 new cases per day on average. There have been 5,564 cases in Sussex County. There have been 160,147 negative test results and 580 deaths. As of Monday evening, there were 62 hospitalizations in the state, with 13 new hospitalizations and 14 patients in critical condition.
Testing is being increased, and Carney urged everyone to be tested, even those who don’t feel sick.