Not surprisingly, Delaware’s response to coronavirus dominated discussion at Tuesday night’s debate between Democratic Gov. John Carney and his Republican opponent Julianne Murray.
Murray, who works as an attorney, has been a vocal advocate for reopening businesses in the state, and even sued to challenge Carney’s emergency order banning short-term rentals. She continued that campaign during the online forum hosted by the University of Delaware.
“This started with fear. Fear is powerful, we need to step back from that fear,” Murray said, pointing to the amount of people who have survived COVID-19 in Delaware. As of Tuesday, the state reported 659 total deaths related to coronavirus out of 22,394 total cases.
“We also need to be talking about that it is not fatal,” she said. “I can’t liken it to the chickenpox, but it’s less deadly than the flu in many circumstances.”
Despite Murray’s claims, the coronavirus has been much more deadly than the flu in Delaware, however. According to the CDC, Delaware has averaged about 165 deaths per year from the seasonal flu in recent years.
“We have to get people to understand that — they don’t want to get it — but if they do get it, it’s not going to be fatal,” she said. “We have to go on with our lives.”
Carney admitted that there was uncertainty at the start of the pandemic in March as health officials worked to determine the best way to stop the virus from spreading.
“Most of the decisions early on were based on public health guidance and fear, frankly. We didn’t know exactly what to do,” he said, adding that the state is limited in its ability to shut the state down in case of a resurgence of the virus in the coming months. “We really have to adapt to a new normal which includes mask wearing, social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings. Mask wearing is now accepted as the most important thing people can do.
Murray disagreed with Carney’s position requiring residents to wear a mask while out in public, and was surprised when presented with a University of Delaware poll that showed 78% of residents support a mask requirement.
“I can tell you on the campaign trail that is not at all what I am being told. People feel that the mask wearing should be voluntary,” she said. “Many of the people that I come across do not actually believe, or do not favor, the mandatory mask wearing.”
The two differed on the outlook for the state’s budget, though both agreed it’s not clear what the economic recovery will look like. Carney pointed to his administration’s work with former state Treasurer Ken Simpler to create a reserve fund during times of plenty that helped the state make ends meet in this year’s budget.
“We started this pandemic, back in this fiscal year, with an additional $125 million in reserve, which was very important as we buffered the challenges we had,” he said.
Murray warned of a very bleak outlook for state revenue due to lost activity during the lockdown.
“I am incredibly concerned if he is governor, what the response is going to be,” she said. “I have every reason to believe that taxes are going to go up when we have the deficit that we absolutely know is coming.”
The two candidates found one area of clear agreement: both oppose legalizing marijuana.
“I’m not a hard veto, but at this point, I would be a veto.”
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