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Coronavirus update: Delaware revenue forecast drops nearly $700 million

Legislative Hall in Dover. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Legislative Hall in Dover. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

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Delaware has 2,745 cases of coronavirus as of noon Monday. That’s an increase of 207 from Saturday. The state did not issue an updated total on Sunday.

A total of 72 people have died from COVID-19 related causes, an increase of five over Saturday’s numbers. Currently, 256 people are being treated in state hospitals.

Updated 5:15 pm

Coronavirus crunch: Major drop in Delaware state revenue

It was a year of plenty for Delaware state government.

Gov. John Carney unveiled a $4.6 billion budget plan in January that increased state spending by nearly 4% over the current year’s budget. In December, the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council added another $121 million to its estimate of how much revenue the state would receive in FY 2021 which starts July 1.

But you can throw away those estimates thanks to the impact of coronavirus and the subsequent state shut down that has caused business in the state to grind to a halt.

Today, DEFAC lowered its revenue estimate for the current fiscal year by $416 million. That’s roughly 10% of the budget Carney introduced in January. The state is now projected to be short $150 million heading into the new fiscal year. The revenue projection for FY 2021 was lowered by $273 million.

“It was all looking good for a while there wasn’t it folks?” DEFAC chairman Michael Houghton said during Monday’s council meeting. The meeting was held via video conference with several members also joining by telephone. “The overall angst that even we feel as members of this council, I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon.”

That angst stems from so many unknowns that forecasters have to consider. When will the state reopen? What will the recovery look like? Will customers return to restaurants and stores even after they reopen? Will there be a re-occurrence of the virus later in the year?

DEFAC’s forecast is based on the best available financial data. That data has been quite difficult to come by. “We have so little information to go on at this point,” said Delaware Secretary of State Jeff Bullock. “It is hard to say whether we will drop 7% and recover half of it, or drop 10% and recover three quarters of it. It’s just too early.”

DEFAC will reconvene again in May and June to revise their estimates. Their numbers are vital to state lawmakers who are required to approve a balanced budget by midnight June 30. It’s not clear exactly how that legislative budget process will be done. The General Assembly has not met since the outbreak.

Coronavirus reporting changes

Delaware health officials did not release updated case numbers or details on deaths on Sunday evening. Since the outbreak started in mid-March, the state has been issuing daily reports sometime between 5 and 7 p.m.

But the Division of Public Health announced a change Sunday afternoon. Updates will now be made everyday around noon as the state has transitioned to a new infectious disease surveillance program. The case numbers provided each day during the noon hour will reflect the most current data as of the close of business the previous day.

The new system will also provide better demographic details including the race/ethnicity of patients and deaths, as well as rates of infection by ZIP code.

“We hope that this will provide you with more accurate and timely information that you need about COVID-19 and Delaware,” said Delaware’s Chief Epidemiologist Tabatha Offutt-Powell.

More cases confirmed behind bars

Five more inmates have tested positive for coronavirus, the state Dept. of Correction announced over the weekend. That includes three people being held at Sussex Community Corrections Center in Georgetown who don’t show any symptoms of COVID-19. They are among seven inmates who are being monitored after two other inmates at SCCC tested positive last week.

The three who tested positive have been transported to James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna where others with the virus are being held. The four who have not tested positive are being kept in isolation at SCCC.

Two more inmates at Vaughn have tested positive as well. They were both among 45 people held in a minimum-security unit where the first 12 positive cases in Delaware’s prison system were found.

There are now 20 people being held in Delaware prisons with coronavirus. A 73-year-old inmate with underlying health conditions died last week as a result of complications from COVID-19.

A correctional officer at SCCC was also recently diagnosed with the virus. That brings the total number of  cases among DOC officers to 18.

Testing, face masks available in Wilmington

Wilmington residents can get tested for coronavirus at a walk-up screening site on Tuesday. ChristianaCare will test residents who are experiencing symptoms of the virus including cough, fever and difficulty breathing.

Testing will be done at P.S. DuPont Middle School 701 W. 34th St. from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Also on Tuesday, the Food Bank of Delaware will be handing out free face masks as part of a cooperative effort with Wilmington Councilwoman Zanthia Oliver and the owners of the New Brown Bag Deli. Masks will be available on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 10 a.m. at 301 E. 9th St. in Wilmington.

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