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Coronavirus update: Delaware beaches to open May 22

The Rehoboth Beach boardwalk (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

The Rehoboth Beach boardwalk (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

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As of Thursday afternoon, state officials say 7,223 Delawareans have contracted COVID-19, an increase of 271 since yesterday. Thirteen more people have died for a total number of 260 fatalities from coronavirus-related causes. The number of people hospitalized is down by nine for a total of 273.

Beaches, pools reopening next Friday

Sunbathers will be allowed to return to Delaware beaches as of 5 p.m. May 22.

Gov. John Carney’s announcement reopening the beaches includes several restrictions, including maintaining six feet apart from anyone outside your household. Face masks are required on the boardwalk and “encouraged” on the beach. Anyone with underlying health conditions or those over age 65 should continue to shelter in place.

“Summer at the beach and the pool is a huge part of life for so many Delawareans. As we ease our way into a new normal, we’re trying to find ways for Delawareans to enjoy the outdoors and the company of their families,” Carney said in a statement.”

The beaches are only reopening for Delaware residents. The state still requires anyone from out of state to quarantine themselves for 14 days. “I want to be very clear to our friends who want to travel here from outside the state. While we hope one day soon to be able to welcome you to our beaches, that time has not yet come. We need to reopen Delaware in a controlled way that doesn’t put anyone at risk,” he said.

Delaware State Police say troopers will be monitoring routes typically taken by out-of-state visitors. “Our emphasis and goal in enforcing the orders, specifically in regards to the travel restrictions, is to achieve voluntary compliance through education and awareness,” said Colonel Nathaniel McQueen Jr., state police superintendent. “The Delaware State Police will continue to enforce the laws of the State of Delaware, to include those associated with the 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state travelers.”

Community pools in Delaware are also allowed to reopen at 5 p.m. May 22. Pools will be limited to 20 percent of regular capacity. Swim lessons or practices of swim teams are not allowed.

Ice cream shops and trucks will be allowed to open for takeout service only starting this Friday, May 15 at 5 p.m.

Delaware lawmakers to reconvene virtually

Delaware lawmakers have not met in full since January. The legislature was in the middle of a break for budget hearings when the coronavirus outbreak forced leaders to shut down the statehouse.

Now, as lawmakers prepare to start a virtual session later this month, legislative leaders say a fire at Legislative Hall in Dover in 2015 is what makes that possible.

That fire exposed a problem with the Delaware Constitution. It said lawmakers could only do their business in person, inside Legislative Hall. State House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said the General Assembly then voted to change the constitution to fix that, allowing for alternative meeting sites in case of fire, war, or in 2020’s case, disease.

“[It] allows us to do it from a remote location, so then we just had to work through how we could do the virtual stuff,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf.

Lawmakers will meet via Zoom on May 26 and 27 to approve a resolution allowing the virtual session to go on.

State Senate President pro-tem David McBride said the public can watch a YouTube feed of the lawmakers on Zoom. McBride said they’ve put special measures in place to make sure all members stay connected during the session.

“Should anybody lose the feed that is in the virtual session, and that’s possible, you could lose your power now wherever you are and you’d be gone, we would immediately recess the session, figure out what the problem is, get it straightened out and then come back into session, we’ve thought about that,” he said.

Schwartzkopf says most bills will have to wait for action next year, as lawmakers work on filling a more than $600 million dollar hole in the state budget caused by the virus and subsequent shutdown.

Delaware courts extend judicial emergency through June 13

Most Delaware court buildings will remain closed through mid-June under a new order from state Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz. It’s the second 30-day extension of his initial order issued in mid-March.

“Our State continues to operate under the Governor’s emergency declarations. Those restrictions—vital to protecting the health and safety of Delawareans—do not presently allow us to increase activity in judicial facilities,” Seitz said. “As I have noted before, with the exception of trials, all state courts continue to use video and audio platforms to conduct as much court business as possible.”

He said the goal is to do as much non-trial casework as possible now, so court operation can resume operations as soon as possible.

All court facilities are closed to the public, except for the three Justice of the Peace Court’s 24-hour facilities in each county.

Two more inmates die from COVID-19 complications

The two latest deaths bring the total number of people to die from the virus in Delaware prisons to six. Richard Roth, a 69-year-old man serving a life sentence for murder, and Peter Schellinger, a 64-year-old serving two life sentences for murder, died Wednesday from complications related to COVID-19.

Both men were being held in unit at the state’s largest prison in Smyrna where an outbreak of the coronavirus first started in early April.

We are saddened by today’s deaths of two seriously ill inmates who had been hospitalized for several days,” Dept. of Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatties said in a statement. Currently, four inmates are hospitalized for treatment of the virus. “Medical staff are administering aggressive treatment to give our four hospitalized COVID inmate patients the best chance of recovery.” 

In total, 139 prisoners have been diagnosed with the virus. Eighty DOC staffers and five contract workers also have the virus.

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