Soon after Gov. John Carney, at his weekly press briefing, announced that the State will not enter Phase 3 of reopening until coronavirus statistics flatten, state Sen. Gerald Hocker released a statement saying he is “extremely disappointed” in the decision.
“Small businesses are suffering, and a record number of Delawareans are receiving unemployment benefits, not due to a negative fluctuation in the market, but because the governor ordered the economy to shut down via executive order. … I, and many others, were supportive of his decisions early on because of the great uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and how to control it,” Hocker wrote.
“We are now six months removed from the initial State of Emergency declaration and we have since learned how to contain the virus and slow its spread. … Governor Carney, it is time to trust Delawareans and begin moving towards a full re-opening. It is time to get our economy and our way of life back on track,” Hocker wrote.
Carney’s office did not respond to a request for a reply to Hocker’s statement, but during the Tuesday, Sept. 8, press briefing, the governor said, “When are we going to move into Phase 3? When we get flat. When we’re better.
“The message today is the same as it’s been for weeks now, that if we want to get more workers back to work, and we want to get more students in front of teachers in classrooms, if we want to have a more normal way of life in terms of circulating … we need to be as cautious in our normal everyday lives to protect our neighbors and families to beat this virus. Right now, we have an upper hand, but we are not beating this virus as we need to,” he said.
As of Tuesday, Delaware was back on New Jersey’s quarantine list, with 94.3 new cases per day and 609 deaths statewide. There have been 18,308 cases and 235,662 people testing negative. In Sussex County, there have been 6,432 cases.
The biggest challenges, the governor said, are in unstructured areas, such as house parties, where alcohol is often involved “and people are having a lot of fun.”
“We know the focus of these outbreaks is in a young demographic, not so worried about coming down with COVID-19 and having a sense of invincibility. And it’s not just here. It’s across the nation,” he said.
Carney said that even when the state moves into Phase III, it will be with caution.
He said he was disturbed by photographs of a recent large gathering in Bridgeville, of many people standing close without wearing masks.
“It shouldn’t occur,” he said.
Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, who was with Carney at the press briefing, called the pictures “horrible” and the event illegal, putting many at risk. She said everybody who attended that event should be tested.
Carney said there were hundreds of people there.
Concerning the beginning of the school year, Carney said the State is positioned to let some children go into the classroom. A portion had returned on Tuesday, and others will be back in weeks to come.
Rattay confirmed that there has been a slight increase in coronavirus cases. On Sept. 4, there was a 7.1 percent increase, with areas of concern from Dover north to Wilmington.
The University of Delaware had reported 41 cases since Sept. 3, with no single point of exposure, but the patients were living in groups or involved in off-campus activities.
Contact tracing is done by the Division of Public Health, not employers or other entities, Rattay said, and the information is critically important, although it has been difficult to get details from some University of Delaware students, she said.
She emphasized that the health department is “not out to get anyone” but to simply obtain facts.
She encouraged everyone to get tested, including those who work closely with the public, such as first-responders and hair stylists.
“If you are a person who is going to be spending time with your elderly mom or someone who has chronic underlying health conditions … and we are really strongly urging testing for people who are doing in-person learning,” she said.
Rattay said that, effective Tuesday, outdoor visitation with those in long-term care facilities was being allowed. Visits will be limited to one or two people, who will be permitted by appointment only and only if they wear face masks. Visitor testing will also be encouraged. If there are new cases of the coronavirus, visitation could be suspended.
A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, who was also with Carney during the press briefing, said testing is available without a physician’s referral, with more testing opportunities coming to Sussex County this week.
As of Aug. 29, the daily average number of tests being done was 15,731, he said. More than 10,000 school staff employees have been tested. Faculty and staff will be tested monthly. Children will be tested in school, with parents’ permission.
He said there will be at-home testing options for school faculty and staff, and for Delaware residents who request a kit be delivered to their homes.
“Don’t go to that big party,” Carney said. “We need to get better so we can send more students back to classrooms in front of teachers and get more working people back to work safely,” he said.
Replying to a reporter who asked the result of re-opening bars on Labor Day weekend, Carney said it was “a big test, and we won’t know the answer to the test until a week or so.”
Rattay said no major problems were reported during the weekend.