Del. coronavirus recovery: Prisons to reopen for visitors

In-person prison visits have been banned since March 11 to keep the coronavirus from being spread behind bars. Delaware's DOC will lift that restriction on June 29.

Morris Community Corrections Center

Delaware prison officials have installed new plexiglass dividers in visitation areas like here at Morris Community Corrections Center in Dover. (Courtesy of DOC)

Are you on the front lines of the coronavirus? Help us report on the pandemic.

Case numbers continue to decline

The number of new coronavirus cases in the state continues to fall. Since crossing the 10,000 mark for total cases on June 9, Delaware has averaged less than 50 new cases a day.

On Monday, the Division of Public Health announced 76 new cases, bringing the state’s total to 10,340. Monday’s numbers have typically been higher as totals catch up over the weekend.

The decline in new cases is even more impressive when factoring in the major expansion and availability of public testing. More than 80,000 people have been tested statewide.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Prison visits to resume

Over the past three months, 148 people held in Delaware prisons contracted the coronavirus. That’s less than 3.5% of the total population of 4,350. Seven people incarcerated have died from complications related to the virus. Starting in January, the Department of Correction was screening inmates for symptoms of the virus, especially if they’d traveled to early hotspots. That screening was expanded to prison staff in February. All in-person visitation was halted on March 11. DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis said that strategy, along with many other steps, worked.

“We have worked effectively to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and thanks to our extensive screening, cleaning, monitoring, testing and tracing efforts, we currently have only one inmate with the illness across our entire correctional system,” she said. “As a result, we are prepared to cautiously restart in-person visitation on June 29.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Visitors can start scheduling a time to come to the prison on June 22. All visitors will be asked about their medical condition and have their temperature taken. They will be required to wear DOC-issued face masks the entire time they’re in the facility.

DOC workers have installed plexiglass barriers in visitation areas to further reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

During the past three months, the prison population has continued to drop. Since March 11, the number of people held at the highest level of security, Level V, has dropped 11%, DOC officials said earlier this month. The number of people held on work-release or violation of probation is down 37%.

Some lawmakers want to extend emergency provisions

Both chambers of the General Assembly will be back at work in Dover this week, and some lawmakers are looking to extend portions of Gov. John Carney’s emergency orders.

Legislation filed last week includes a measure that would allow restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages for take-out, curbside or drive-through service through March 2021. That legislation would also allow expanded outdoor seating to remain in place through next March. Restaurants were granted permission to serve take-out alcohol through an executive order Carney issued in mid-March.

Another bill would allow all voters to cast votes by mail for all elections through the end of the year. “No one should ever have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to cast a ballot,” said Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore. “This legislation will give voters in Delaware the choice of voting from home by expanding our existing absentee ballot process.”

Delaware doctors would be allowed to meet new patients via telemedicine under another bill proposed by state Rep. David Bentz and state Sen. Bryan Townsend. That bill would also allow out of state health care providers to provide telemedicine services in Delaware if they hold an active license in another state.

“By passing these bills and other proposals we are developing, we will ensure that residents and businesses continue to have many of these protections in place,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst.

Lawmakers will hold their session virtually starting Tuesday afternoon. They have until June 30 to approve a balanced budget.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal