Delaware issues stay-at-home advisory, mask mandate

Delaware Gov. John Carney

Delaware Gov. John Carney answers questions regarding Delaware’s response to coronavirus during a press briefing at the Carvel State Office building in Wilmington on April 3, 2020. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

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Gov. John Carney wants Delawareans to avoid indoor gatherings with people outside their household from Dec. 14 through Jan. 11, announcing late Thursday what he called a “stay-at-home advisory” to protect residents from the skyrocketing number of coronavirus cases.

Carney is also issuing a universal mask mandate, effective in 11 days, that requires residents to wear a face covering if they are indoors with anyone outside their immediate household.

Carney also urged schools to “pause” in-person learning on Dec. 14, which he termed “around the holidays,” and not return to hybrid learning until Jan. 11.

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Winter sports competitions by school and community teams will be prohibited during that time as well, but practices may continue under strict COVID-19 masking and social distancing guidelines.

Carney noted that schools have done an admirable job protecting the more than 60,000 students having in-person learning. He said a total of 576 students and staff in public and private schools have tested positive, with the “vast majority” of transmissions occurring outside of school. The guidance for schools does not apply to child care centers, Carney said

Carney added in his Thursday announcement that “more restrictions” are being considered.

Carney, who recently cut indoor dining capacity to 30 percent and restricted in-home gatherings to 10 people, had warned Tuesday that more “mitigation’’ measures might be coming.

His move Thursday came after the reported number of new coronavirus cases was 754, the highest since the first case was reported in Delaware on March 10, and the weekly daily average was 555, another record. To date, 37,456 residents – nearly 4 percent of the state population — have been infected and 779 have died of coronavirus-related causes, according to the Division of Public Health.

The looming “stay-at-home” advisory, which is less restrictive than the State of Emergency at-home order in effect this spring, does not apply to Delawareans in workplaces, and to people traveling to and from work, Carney said.

The new indoor mask order is more restrictive than the public mask mandate which has been in place April 28 for people in public places who can’t maintain at least six feet of social distance. Children age 2 or younger are exempt from this requirement.

Carney said schools without significant operational challenges can continue with hybrid learning, and that the “pause’’ during a time when most schools are closed for the holiday break will let them plan operationally for the second half of the school year.

“A vaccine is on the way but, make no mistake, we are facing the most difficult few months of this crisis,” Carney said in a written statement.

“I know we’re all tired of COVID-19 – but it’s not tired of us. We’re pleading with Delawareans to do the right thing. Wear a mask. It’s a simple sacrifice to protect others, and to make sure that Delaware’s children get an education. Do not gather with anyone outside your household. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. “

Carney added, “We know that schools are structured and relatively safe environments. That’s thanks to the hard work of educators, students and staff who have been following the science, and keeping their communities healthy.

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“But school leaders and educators face significant operational challenges as we see more community spread. If we pull together and follow the public health advice, we can get more children in classrooms, and get through this difficult winter.”

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