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Coronavirus update: New cases surge in Delaware; beach towns in quandary with Ocean City, Md.’s weekend reopening

Rehoboth Beach Police patrolmen stand on a wall at an empty boardwalk

Rehoboth Beach Police patrolmen stand on a wall at an empty boardwalk and beach on Saturday, March 21, 2020, after Delaware Gov. John Carney ordered the closing of all state beaches and boardwalks in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Butch Comegys/WHYY)

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Delaware has reported 5,778 cases of the coronavirus and 193 related deaths. There are 299 COVID-19 patients in Delaware hospitals.

Delaware’s COVID-19 burden intensified over the last 24 hours, with 407 new laboratory-confirmed cases reported by public health officials after a few days with a decline in new cases.

The number of new cases made public Wednesday is the third-highest daily toll since Delaware’s first case was recorded on March 11 — eight weeks ago.

New cases had ranged from 79 to 184 over the last seven days, and on Tuesday Gov. John Carney had highlighted downward trend lines in new cases, hospitalizations and percentage of tests that were positive.

But all three measures Carney is monitoring to help him decide when to move toward Phase 1 of reopening went up in Wednesday’s disclosure. Thirteen more people were hospitalized and 23% of the reported test results were positive, compared with 15% Tuesday.

A total of 193 people have died of coronavirus-related illnesses, including six in the last 24 hours.

Stacey Hoffman of Delaware’s Coronavirus Joint Information Center told WHYY “the increased number of cases is likely a combination of increased testing and the flow of testing results coming from the private labs.”

The surge comes one day after Carney modified his stay-at-home order by authorizing a range of retail businesses that had been shuttered during his State of Emergency to open with curbside service on Friday morning.

Those businesses include department stores and others that sell sporting goods, clothes, shoes, books, tobacco and vaping products.

Sussex County has become the state’s latest “hot spot” for cases, with almost as many as Delaware’s other two counties — New Castle and Kent — combined, even though fewer than 1 in 4 residents live in Sussex.

That trend continued with Wednesday’s report, with 60% of the new cases from Delaware’s southernmost county. Testing has increased in Sussex, especially in Latinx immigrant communities and around chicken processing plants.

Ocean City, Md., reopening puts Delaware in quandary

Delaware’s cherished beach towns and their businesses depend on summer tourism to survive and thrive.

But their mayors say the coronavirus crisis makes opening by the traditional Memorial Day weekend kickoff ‘not feasible,’’ as they wrote in a letter this month to Carney.

But on Tuesday the mayor of bordering Ocean City, Maryland, announced that he will reopen its beaches and boardwalk this Saturday, and Carney says the unexpected move puts his state in a quandary.

“I do have some concerns there with Ocean City reopening their businesses,’’ Carney said. “Obviously the businesses on this side of the line are gonna say, why not us?”

Delaware’s oceanside towns that encompass a nearly 25-mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean coastline are, from north to south, Lewes, Henlopen Acres, Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island.

Ocean City, which has a much denser population than Delaware’s shore towns, starts where Fenwick Island ends and runs along about 10 more miles of coastline.

Carney had a conference call with the mayors this week and said they are concerned.

The mayor of “Fenwick island in particular was wondering, ‘How am I going to keep people going on the beach in Maryland from coming over the state line to his beach in Delaware?’’’ Carney said.

Carney closed the state’s beaches in late March to all but exercise, dog walking and surf fishing with strict social distancing rules. Most coastal towns later banned all beach access.

Carneys says he was trying to work with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to coordinate reopening their neighboring shorelines. But now that strategy is moot and Carney acknowledges it will put pressure on him and mayors to ease restrictions. He calls it “probably the toughest decision coming up.”

Memorial Day weekend is May 23-25 — just two and a half weeks away.

As far as when he might loosen the rules, Carney was noncommittal but indicated it might be before June.

“In terms of opening the beach more broadly, you know I think looking toward the end of the month would be kind of the best estimate of when that might occur,’’ he said.

“We’ll be making that determination. Meet with the mayors, get their input, make some differentiation among towns and then decide how to move forward.”

3 New Wilmington one-day test sites

The city has collaborated with St. Francis Healthcare and state public health officials to operate three health assessment and test sites. These one-time events will each last two hours.

The locations, dates and times are:

  • Monday, May 1, from noon to 2 p.m. at the parking lot of Ezion Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church, 800 North Walnut St. This is a drive-thru event.
  • Tuesday, May 12, from noon to 2 p.m. at Frauline Trotter Park across the street from William “Hicks” Anderson Community Center, 501 North Madison St. This is a walk-up event.
  • Wednesday, May 20, noon to 2 p.m. at Judy Johnson Park at North DuPont and West 3rd streets. This is a walk-up event.

Besides the one-day events, two permanent sites are located at:

  • Latin American Community Center’s MOB Building, 3rd and Harrison streets, on Mondays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Kingswood Community Center, 2300 Bowers St., Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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